Construction is changing but there is much to be done. We need to build more homes to meet increasing demand and we need to do so against a backdrop of an ageing workforce, a lack of public trust in the quality of our solutions and a climate emergency, to which designing, constructing and operating the built environment is a major contributor.
Of course there are challenges but we need to focus on the significant opportunities that can be taken with stronger leadership and vision. This is what will drive transformational change.
Being bold and innovative is what we do at Construction Scotland Innovation Centre. We want UK construction businesses to look to the future and do things better – and that includes tackling our housing shortage through modern, more efficient building techniques.
The UK is currently experiencing a housing shortage, with government statistics stating a further 120,000 homes are needed annually. Specifically, there is a shortage in the provision of affordable homes, and the rate at which these additional homes need to be built cannot be achieved solely using traditional construction methods.
Bold, daring, exciting, and radical solutions are needed. But we need to work with people outside our comfort zone who will challenge conventional wisdom. We need to surprise and delight customers with solutions that offer choice, improve our lives and sustain our communities. And these visionary solutions need to be driven by strong and dynamic leaders.
Since CSIC launched in 2014 we have had a focus on offsite construction, which we believe is the game-changer when it comes to tackling the current housing shortage. In the UK less than 5% of construction uses offsite techniques, compared to around 9% in Germany, 12-15% in Japan and 20% in Sweden.
Offsite offers 30% quicker build time for new homes compared to traditional methods and efficiently delivers a high quality, mass-customisable product that is technically advanced, and offers social, environmental and economic benefits. It can significantly speed up the housebuilding process, with building components being manufactured in a factory, while onsite preparations are progressing at the same time. Using a controlled offsite environment can reduce the impact of adverse weather conditions on the project, reducing costs and improving safety.
We have an opportunity to harness Scotland’s innovation capacity in this respect, but we need to act now. We desperately need to see more innovation in housing, and we need to drive solutions that tackle the climate emergency. This is becoming increasingly important to customers and end users. We need to mainstream innovation to ensure that what we build today is fit for purpose in our zero-carbon future. We do not have time to wait.
The industry needs brave clients to use the levers of frameworks and pipeline programmes to drive change, and we need a workforce skilled and able to deliver this change across the construction industry. Only by doing this will we ensure that we attract the next generation of talent into our industry.
To address this, CSIC recently launched a Future Skills Strategy to boost innovation across the sector. The strategy delivers a range of interactive courses and activities that put the technology unlocking innovation in the sector in the hands of school pupils, college and university students, as well as industry leaders.
The increased use of digital technologies is changing how we work, and gives real opportunities to work smarter, efficiently and more sustainably. It also helps to foster a culture of collaboration, understanding and appreciation of other roles and the impact they have on each other. This is especially important as the industry looks to drive productivity and growth to meet the housing demand.
There are a number of solutions already available in the market. CSIC is part of a connected ecosystem that exists to help de-risk this innovation activity. We have some of the best academic expertise in the world right here in Scotland.
New processes and ways of delivering innovation to clients should be viewed as ways to unlock value in the industry, not as problems or costly change. Client and industry leaders need to recognise the unique levers they have at their disposal and drive forward change through action.
Stephen Good is Chief Executive, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre