In a guest blog by NOCN Group Managing Director Graham Hasting-Evans, he explains why NOCN Group embedded WorldSkills UK’s ‘Seeing is Believing’ programme into their new report on improving UK construction’s productivity.

It was with great pleasure that I launched NOCN Group’s landmark report into the British construction sector, part of the WorldSkills UK ‘Seeing is Believing’ Programme, at WorldSkills UK LIVE’s Business Breakfast last year.

Constructing SMARTER sets out the results of research carried out by NOCN during 2019, which sought to understand the state of UK construction in the last few months of the decade, what can be learnt from our international WorldSkills competitors and how the domestic sector can forge ahead by ‘constructing smarter’.

We were delighted to partner WorldSkills UK through its ‘Seeing is Believing’ programme, as we have many objectives and aspirations in common, such as a dynamic drive to build UK skills and to gain benchmarking knowledge from overseas.

Indeed, so relevant is the programme to NOCN’s own aims, that we embedded it in our approach to the Constructing SMARTER research. Here it helped shape the work, as it presented an opportunity to gain real international insight.

The research uniquely coupled work understanding of the UK’s productivity issue with observation of skills in practice at the international WordSkills competition, held in Russia in 2019. Here, crucially, we were given the chance to meet construction employers and training and skills agencies from around the world, who provided us with hugely valuable insight, details of breakthroughs and new techniques and predictions for the future.

And the event presented great added value, since much of the information we gained is relevant to many other sectors we work in, not just construction.

NOCN’s Constructing SMARTER report posts knowledge and data gathered on international best practice and advises employers, government and training providers what they can do to lift the UK sector’s productivity via radically improved skills development.

Its key findings identified that construction is facing similar issues across the globe in terms of productivity, skills shortages, the challenges of the digital/Fourth Industrial Revolution, barriers to recruitment and literacy and numeracy levels.

However, the UK’s beleaguered sector is falling behind the most productive overseas competition. Key areas where we are not gaining traction include the perception that construction careers are not aspirational paths; the successful uptake of highly efficient new techniques – often digital driven; and workforce structure (the most successful countries have the highest numbers of directly employed construction staff, making training and upskilling easier).

Its recommendations aim to create a greater sense of ownership and involvement among UK employers and other key stakeholders and the promotion and universal uptake of the key industry innovations that other nations are running with.

They include investing in new digital equipment and offsite techniques (‘smart construction’); using the CITB and other levies to invest in world leading upskilling of the workforce; continuing support of reputable and effective training providers; bringing more international learnings back to the UK by entering more apprentices into skills competitions, such as WorldSkills UK competitions; a robust communications programme to promote construction careers as rewarding and meaningful; increasing real professional development in the sector; and making more workers directly employed.

The importance of a construction sector to any nation cannot be overstated. Apart from the ability to actually produce and maintain the housing, retail units and business buildings, infrastructure and public works projects that hallmark a society worth living in, a robust one can be a massive economic driver.

Indeed, for the UK, it could be enough to avoid growth downgrades while helping us to compete against overseas construction interests sectors – both in our own domestic market and their territories.

For this reason, getting into a state of optimum productivity is an objective that should concern us all.

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