Newly appointed deputy chair of the Construction Industry Council, Justin Sullivan, talks about how he intends to lead the body forward, and his vision for the future of the construction sector
Last year the construction sector contributed £117bn to the UK economy, which equated to six per cent of total economic output. The sector provided 2.4m jobs – seven per cent of the UK total – and accounted for 13 per cent of total UK businesses. There is no doubt about it; our industry is vital to the fiscal health of the country and will be instrumental to the national recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the newly appointed deputy chair of the Construction Industry Council (CIC), how we move forward is at the forefront of my mind. There are going to be changes to the way we work, including de-risking projects, how we work on site, and supply chain structures possibly moving from a global to a more local model. Of course, Brexit adds another level of complexity to this, and it remains to be seen how product manufacturing and procurement will be impacted.
The UK construction industry, both as its own entity and as part of global construction, will undoubtedly face a series of tests in the coming years, but the spirit with which we have approached challenges over the past few months is proof that we are up to the task. The most obvious example is the building of the Nightingale hospitals – collaboration across the industry allowed for an agility and speed which meant we could assist our country in a time of grave need.
As wonderful as this is, the truth is that the pandemic has acted as catalyst for changes the industry has needed to make for a long time now. For at least the past decade we’ve been talking about the technological disruption that’s set to transform our industry, improve efficiency, productivity and outcomes, yet it has yet to break through to the mainstream. We’re not using BIM to its maximum potential like Singapore and Norway for example, whose construction industries are more efficient and productive. Most of us are still limited to using Excel and PDFs as basic data input and output formats, rather than more advanced, bespoke tools.
I very much see my four-year term with the CIC – one year as deputy chair and two years as chair, before returning to deputy chair for the final year – as preparing the Council for what the industry will look like in four years’ time. For me, technology is one of the two things we need to get right in order to move forward. As our use of BIM develops, for example, contractors will take the lead more in the construction process, and the procurement process will be more upfront. This will allow for more collaboration and less of the adversarial, siloed experience that currently exists.
The other aspect that must move forward is standards and consistency. By that I don’t mean the specific standards or guidance provided by individual bodies, but rather higher-levels of professionalism across an industry that provide consistency and in turn breed public confidence.
Success through collaboration
The CIC provides a voice for professionals in all sectors of the built environment including approximately 500,000 individual professionals and more than 25,000 construction firms. We are defined as ‘the only single body able to speak with authority on the diverse issues connected with construction without being constrained by the self-interest of any particular sector of the industry’. We are therefore, by our very nature, a collaborative organisation. We have an opportunity – and a duty – to set the example for collaboration across the industry between professionals, firms, bodies, and government.
As a UK organisation, we also have an opportunity to collaborate across jurisdictions and regions. Although the pandemic increased border restrictions, our industry is now more global than ever. We need to work with our international colleagues to encourage high standards and share knowledge and best practice.
As the borders rose over the past few months, so did human kindness and compassion – something which I believe we need more of in our industry. Greater importance needs to be placed how we do things, rather than simply getting a project over the finish line: that means respecting other professionals and acting with humility and courtesy.
It’s in this spirit of human kindness that I intend to lead the CIC. I will listen to members, learn about their experiences and their needs, and identify common themes. I intend to draw on all of my industry experience – whether that be running my own business, working internationally, leading RICS boards or being one of the trustees of the International Construction Measurement Standards Coalition – and lead with credibility.
There is a long road ahead, but we have every reason to feel positive about the future of our industry given what it has achieved in the past few months. Let’s use these next four years to build on those achievements and ensure lasting positive transformation.