CIC Blog: 2015
Associate Director – Cities at the Building Research Establishment (BRE).
Sipping Champagne on the top deck of Arup’s yacht in the Old Port of Cannes, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the influential women attending our Future City roundtable and the general representation of women at MIPIM, the property sector’s annual business development event. Of the 21,400 people who attended MIPIM, I couldn’t tell you what proportion were women. But I can say that the women I met in Cannes were experienced influential thought-leaders who provide positive role models for women in the property industry.
In the UK, women represent 15% of the property and construction industry workforce. Given this underrepresentation, it is always a pleasure to meet women who have excelled in the industry and can inspire younger generations to stay in this career path and carve out their own way to achieving positive impact. What I found particularly inspiring at MIPIM were the women pulling through values of social inclusion and environmental sustainability fully aligned with a strong focus on economic growth. This blog post introduces a few of these women as inspirational examples in the wider development industry – their stories and perspectives are relevant for anybody in the sector.
I met Natalie Voland at the Future Cities roundtable, organised by World Cities Network and supported by BRE. She shared her experiences working in Montreal as a property developer with a portfolio of approx. 1.5 million sq. ft and over 500 small and medium businesses. Natalie has a background in social work and this shapes her approach to real estate. She seeks to use her developments to bring about economic growth and urban regeneration, working with communities and small businesses to build property that is sustainable from the triple bottom line perspective.
Taking over her father’s property development business 18 years ago, Natalie had to fight through stereotypes to win respect from her workforce. She did this by working for three months in each of the departments of the company, including pounding nails on construction sites. To prove her commitment to excellence, Natalie told her new employees (some of whom had taken to calling her ‘Barbie’) that if she could do their job better at the end of three months, they would have to find a new job. This approach removed any doubt that Natalie was up for the job, but it’s not her only management style. Her company’s website says ‘whenever possible, we promote and support our employees' families.’ This is followed by a series of the company’s commitments to its employees emphasising strong family values, employee development and diversity within the company.
I saw Martha Schwartz speak at a session run by RIBA on designing Healthy Cities. She was talking about the role of public spaces and emphasised “that nothing can sustain itself over time if people are not invested in it either emotionally or physically”. Martha is clearly invested in the opportunity for urban landscapes to be huge assets for cities but describes a situation where they are currently economically and politically stressed. She was practical about the economic realities of maintaining high quality urban spaces, but adamant that there are huge costs to cities and society of not investing in public places. Her views in this session were a refreshing change from the other presentations which were more prosaic than thought-provoking material. Martha is a tenured Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and she runs her own landscape architecture practice in London with international clients.
Photograph: Martha Schwartz speaking at MIPIM, 12 March 2015.
Rosemary Feenan, International Director at Jones Lang LaSalle, also attended our Future Cities roundtable. She is currently running the firm’s Global Research Programmes on World Winning Cities, Global Real Estate Transparency and Sustainability in Global Real Estate Market. I was impressed by Rosemary’s contribution to the discussion as she sought to point out where good practice in investment analysis in the property industry is beginning to address wider urban challenges. Rosemary has a background in urban planning and over three decades of experience in property market analysis.
Walking along the front of the Palais des Festivals you see the thousands of suits and ties moving between yachts and cafes to carry out the business of international real estate investment deals. It was refreshing and inspiring to meet a few women who have made real impact in this industry, albeit in different professions, with passion and expertise. Outside of their impact on property, I think the women I’ve highlighted in this post will also be influential to young professionals who are looking for role models and the diverse range of career paths available in the development industry.
Photograph: Future Cities roundtable, Natalie Voland (Left) and Rosemary Feenan (Right) at MIPIM, 12 March 2015, organised by World Cities Network.
For more information about the CIC Diversity Panel click here
Contributor: Helen Pineo is Associate Director – Cities at the Building Research Establishment (BRE). She has seven years of experience in urban planning with a focus on sustainability. In 2013 she led the creation of a BRE Women’s Network that holds cross-industry events to inspire young professionals.
Construction Industry Council
A 36-year perspective on construction has been one series of very long loops. On the one hand, there has been the continual drive – from the top – to improve the industry’s efficiency with strategic reports coming along at an ever-increasing frequency. Introducing ‘Constructing The Team’ - in 1994 - the author, Sir Michael Latham, remarked that it had been 15 years since the Banwell Report and he hoped that there would not need to be another seminal report about construction in the next 15 years.
"The “Cinderella” industry has at long last found a Prince Charming in Government (and he can dance, too) now that we have a Secretary of State for Business (Vince Cable) who recognises that no other sector can function without an effective construction industry."
But by 2010, there had been four more major overhaul reviews (2 x Egan, Wolstenholme and Morrell)!
The current iteration of all this motherhood and apple pie (for every report has articulated the blindingly obvious about how to make a better industry) is the Industrial Strategy, which merits some higher level of consideration since it, at least, places construction amongst and alongside the other major industrial sectors of the UK economy.
The “Cinderella” industry has at long last found a Prince Charming in Government (and he can dance, too) now that we have a Secretary of State for Business ( Vince Cable) who recognises that no other sector of the British economy can function without an effective construction industry.
But, to carry this “Into the Woods” analogy one step further, the slipper still doesn’t fit. Despite all the reports, we remain an industry that doesn’t train its own people in sufficient numbers, has an appalling record on diversity, requires a convoluted supply chain to construct a large shed and doesn’t pass on the payments fairly down to the people who actually turn up to do the work.
The other series of loops I’ve witnessed over the past 36 years has been the eternal cycle of boom and bust. We go from throwing good people onto the scrapheap to bemoaning skills shortages, sometimes seemingly without pausing for breath. The short-termism of the industry never ceases to amaze me. Companies’ breeze through the good times without – it appears – bothering much to prepare for the fact that they will not last forever. When the recession comes, we mostly seem to be ill-prepared.
"Frankly, it’s a cop-out. No other economic sector has certainty of demand."
Now, we are obsessed with creating pipelines of work. It seems like a great idea. Spreading the workload evenly - like marmite on a piece of toast - will ensure a regularity of provision and guard against the inevitable inflationary pressure of too much, too soon. A National Infrastructure Pipeline is a good thing but as a necessity for the client – and here the collective client is the UK taxpayer – rather than industry.
The problem now comes with the industry believing that the pipeline is there for its own sake to provide a steady and unencumbered forward flow of work. I hear this refrain frequently from industry trade associations who would like to see the “pipeline” concept extended to every area of demand, even into the private sector. “Give us certainty of work, going forward, and we can invest in the people we need”, is the sort of plea I hear.
Frankly, it’s a cop-out. No other economic sector has certainty of demand. The biggest single thought, garnered from these 36 years’ experience, is the certainty that this industry needs an entirely new business model. And time is running out.
Diversity Champion for Construction Leadership Council
Chairman Construction Industry Council
When I agreed to take the role of Diversity Champion for the Construction Leadership Council in November last year I did not think that my first publication under that heading would be in response to an attention grabbing headline in Construction News:
“Half of top contractors say diversity at their firms is ‘sufficient’ – CN Barometer, (7 January 2015.)
Beneath the headlines this means employing ‘sufficient’ women, graduates, apprentices and ethnic minorities, whilst simultaneously complaining about lack of skills and insufficient staff. Mike Putnam, Chief Executive of Skanska responded, quite rightly in my view, by saying that this was ‘rubbish’.
With just 12% women in the construction workforce and just over 7000 apprenticeships completed last year this cannot in any way be sufficient.
The one common theme causing most senior management to lose sleep at the moment is lack of skills and shortage of good skilled staff. Our industry lost over 400,000 jobs in the recession and a further 400,000 people will retire in the next decade. With 10 % of our workforce between the ages of 19 and 24, 12% women and about 5% from a non-white background, construction cannot possibly fill the requirement for skill and jobs by looking to a pale male graduate supply.
Diversity matters because diversity means business. Without diversity our businesses and our industry cannot thrive. It is not only the right thing but it is now a compelling commercial imperative.
So what is the Construction Leadership Council doing about this?
It is no accident that the Industrial Strategy “Construction 2025” produced by government and industry in partnership, put PEOPLE first on its agenda.
The Construction Industry Council and its Delivery Group are working on a number of initiatives to address some key challenges.
In spite of many excellent efforts we still have an urgent need to improve the perception of our industry amongst young people at school, their parents and their teachers. We need to get across a compelling story that our industry is an excellent place to build a long and rewarding career with a real diversity of jobs available to all who want to join us.
CLC Delivery Group is working on proposals for a common gateway for information and advice, with clear entry routes into the industry. An effective common industry framework for engaging young people with a gateway website. A ‘shop window’ for our industry with a clear message that whatever your background or academic ability, construction can offer you opportunities and a rewarding career.
Whilst inspiring young people is the immediate focus of CLC and its Delivery Group to improving the image and attractiveness of the industry it is only the start.
The young people who are attracted to join us will in turn attract those that follow them. But to create a diverse workforce we must retain a diverse work force.
Many people have said, and particularly women already involved with construction, that we are not a welcoming industry.
Persuading women, and indeed men, to make a career in construction will remain a problem until this is addressed, and cultural change is at the heart of this. Modernising employment procedures, embracing technology that allows flexible and remote working, creating the training opportunities which allow women and men with young children, those who care for relatives and those with disability to participate in our industry and grow to management roles are key to attracting and retaining diverse workforce.
Our industry is a vital economic sector. If we are to remain so and our business to continue to thrive, then we need to recognise that we must attract and retain people from the whole of the talent pool.
Diversity matters to business because diversity is business.
CIC BIM2050 Co-founder
We have seen the likes of Polaroid, Kodak, RIM Blackberry, Nokia and more recently Blockbuster and Woolworths fall victim to the shifting landscape in culture and technology. There are many reasons why these businesses failed to remain market leaders.
The construction industry has always been sensitive to economic cycles. Regardless if your viewpoint is boom and bust or feast and famine, the industry is currently tackling the digitalisation of business models… some businesses are doing well, whilst most are not. With the uptake of initiatives like building information modelling (BIM), virtual design and construction (VDC) and collaborative frameworks, there could be a need to adapt the traditional business models of construction firms, to enable them to be competitive in a world of smart cities and infrastructure.
This is the focus of my research. How are we going to do business in the future? This is an ambitious subject to explore, and you may wonder why bother? For those who believe that markets are effective at sorting the good business models from the bad ones, I ask you to think about the impact of that Darwinian approach on the construction industry. With respect to the companies listed above, do you think we could survive without cameras that can instantly print images? How about without a mobile phone that has physical buttons? Has the welfare of our society been damaged by the lack of pick & mix? Probably not…
My point is that market failures for ‘traditional’ products and services do not greatly impact our welfare in the long run, and the failure of construction firms is not comparable. To flip the question around, does the inefficiency of our social and economic infrastructure impact our welfare? Does poorly delivered healthcare facilities effect patient outcomes? Will inadequate airport terminal construction cause problems for tourism? Probably yes…
This means the reconfiguration of commercial practice needs to be researched, supported by industry and academia working together. We have seen the benefit of academic and industry integration on large infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, but our industry is far more than just a collection of construction projects. The sum of the whole of the social and economic infrastructure is far greater than its parts. There is no point building a world leading accident and emergency centre with no linkages to suitable roads and transport networks.
There needs to be a focus on how we build agreements between stakeholders of social and economic infrastructure. We are still building contracts and commercial frameworks that foster adversarial behaviours and aggressive operational practices, whilst failing to align with desired outcomes. To put it simply, we need to let technology do what it can do best and maximise the time for people to develop positive relationships and create great products.
There isn’t a silver bullet that will discover the solution overnight, change needs to be incremental and the research has to start somewhere. If you are interested in participating in my research, please complete this survey, contact details are provided on the survey page.
I would also urge you to participate in the community of people who want to take action and make change happen in our industry, please follow @BIM2050 and @2050group on twitter and support a vibrant community of industry leaders on the CIC 2050 Group LinkedIn page.
Contributor: Neil is a co-founder of the CIC BIM2050 group and is a part-time postgraduate student at The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management. Neil is Principal BIM Integrator and Innovation Leader at Balfour Beatty, he can be found on Linkedin and Twitter: @Neil_BIM