Mark Beard, the CIOB’s ‘first virtual president’, reflects on a tumultuous time for construction in the wake of Covid, Brexit and Grenfell, and the changes that lie ahead
On 23 June 2021, my year as president of the CIOB comes to a conclusion and with it the jokes about being the ‘first virtual president’ in its 187-year history.
During this time, I have done my very best to ensure young people feel welcomed at CIOB events, paid virtual visits to all CIOB international regions and instil a quality culture into our industry. In each of the areas, I believe we have made small steps forward – which I very much hope will endure, long after I have left office.
I conclude my presidential year, 33 years after becoming a member. Reflecting on how the CIOB has changed over the period, I feel we have developed our own distinctive voice, becoming the leading construction industry voice on standards, ethics and quality.
At the same time, we have retained a very close friendly culture for an organisation of 45,000 members. I am particularly proud of how we have been able to support financially members who have been forced out of work by the Covid-19 virus during the last year.
“The pandemic and our exit from the European Union have meant over 30 years of globalisation has gone into reverse”
In many ways, where we are going is far more interesting that where we have come from. The rate of change we are seeing in our industry and more broadly in society makes it difficult to foresee the shape of our industry in 33 years’ time, the relevance of professional institutions and how best the CIOB can make a meaningful impact on society and our industry across the globe.
However imperfect, I thought it would be interesting to capture a few thoughts on how our world may evolve and how the CIOB may develop over the next third of the century, while remaining true to its Royal Charter centred around the promotion of the science and practice of building and construction for the benefit of society.
Three seismic events over the last five years give us a strong clue about the likely direction of track: Covid-19, Brexit and the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
“I believe we will all increasingly have to demonstrate what we have done is right, rather than everyone simply assuming work has been constructed to the approved specification”
The pandemic and our exit from the European Union have meant over 30 years of globalisation has gone into reverse. As nation states and as an industry, we need to become far more self-sufficient regarding labour, materials and ever complex building components. I believe the relative lack of cheap immigrant labour coming to the UK will force our industry to modernise at a far greater rate than we have seen during the first part of this century. In 33 years’ time, it is likely that pre-manufactured building elements will be embedded across all building types.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy and subsequent inquiry has not shown our industry in a good light. Society will expect us to construct buildings that are safe and of a high quality. Over the next decade, I believe we will all increasingly have to demonstrate what we have done is right, rather than everyone simply assuming work has been constructed to the approved specification. Though in 33 years’ time, inspection of building work may be substantially automated.
In the UK we have a plethora of construction industry professional institutes and trade bodies to the great frustration of government. Although it is unlikely the government will force consolidation, it is highly probable that they will create an environment where only those professional institutes and trade bodies that make a meaningful impact will have the ear of government and those that do not will be left out in the cold – which in itself is likely to lead to sector consolidation.
How should the CIOB respond to these challenges?
Firstly, we need to constantly remind ourselves of our purpose, defined by our Royal Charter: be clear about our unique role within the industry while accepting that other institutes and trade bodies are sometimes better placed to lead on some issues.
Secondly, we need to collaborate more openly with other organisations, creating mutually beneficial relationships, minimising duplication of effort and being part of one industry voice to government.
Thirdly, we need to increase the amount of research we carry out on behalf of our industry, making sure it is relevant to a fast-moving world, and share the research with members. We can use this research to develop cutting-edge training courses and even influence government policy.
Finally, we must remember it is CIOB members who pay for everything the CIOB does. We need to keep listening to their needs, adapting our service to reflect our ever-changing world and, above all, ensure their hard-earned qualification is recognised as the gold standard in our industry. If you are a client considering who will lead your construction project, you should be absolutely assured that a chartered builder means you will have someone leading your project that really cares about the outcome.
It has been an interesting year, one I will never forget, and although very different to what I envisaged, I hope I have made a small positive impact on our industry.
Mark Beard is chairman of Beard Group and president of the CIOB.