More investment in innovation would attract a new wave of diverse, tech-savvy workers to construction, helping address the sector’s skills shortage, the contracting giant argues in a paper calling for accelerated innovation in the industry.
Balfour Beatty also makes the case, against a backdrop of risk-averse procurement practices and funding pressures, for public sector contracting authorities to be bolder and experiment more with new technology to see these benefits come through.
Delivering benefits now
Author of Ahead of the Curve — innovation and productivity in construction, head of public affairs and policy at Balfour Beatty , Veena Hudson, says the benefits of digitisation are clear, adding the company has seen projects delivered more effectively and efficiently by using, for example, building information modelling, overlaid with details of scheduling and cost together with augmented and virtual reality.
Hudson adds drones allow teams to track progress more often, safely and with increased accuracy while data analytics help the company predict and prevent infrastructure problems in a move away from the “more expensive and less reliable ‘find and fix’ model.”
While Hudson says the industry needs to pick up the pace and implement technology and fresh ways of working, she adds local authorities and other commissioning bodies should “demonstrate courage” and smooth the way by becoming more innovative and less risk-averse, especially when it comes to procurement.
Balfour Beatty has been involved in a number of high-profile projects including the 60-mile Elizabeth Line in London, the M25, infrastructure works at Heathrow Airport, and the London Aquatics Centre, pictured.
The company has launched its Supplier Innovation Gateway to encourage the supply chain to put forward new ideas for products, materials and services. The firm says it will pilot workable submissions before making them available across projects.
Delivering a modern workforce
Hudson says continued investment in new technologies will address skills shortages by challenging outdated perceptions of the sector. She adds: “Increasing use of robots and automation will also mean that the industry becomes more productive, creating new roles for skilled workers in cutting-edge areas, while reducing the need for those undertaking repetitive, manual tasks such as bricklaying, lessening long term health risks.”
Devolving more power and resources to local areas would make success in “future proofing the skills base” more likely: a goal that depends on local authorities and their partners focusing on raising skills levels to ensure they make the most of these new opportunities for highly skilled workers that come from automation.
And these significant changes to the labour market also mean companies like Balfour Beatty need to work increasingly closely with local communities and the education system to make sure pupils and students are equipped with the right skills.