In Conversation With...

Issue 100

Tim Barrett FCIOB - Chair of Construction Alliance North East (CAN)

Can you tell us about CAN and your role as chair?

CAN is a lobbying body. Playing a strategic role in supporting regional North East contractors, we represent over 500 member companies through their membership of Northern Counties Builders Federation, National Federation of Builders, Federation of Master Builders & Civil Engineering Contractors Association. These companies play a major role in the local economy with a combined turnover of over £3billion and employ more than 100,000 people in the region.

The role of the chair is to get in front of decision makers and discuss how we can get our membership involved in the wider strategy at local government and client level and help them make policy and decisions that will have a positive impact on the local construction industry. The great benefit to keeping things regional is we see a positive impact in social value. This year, with a general election coming, it’s more important than ever to ensure we have a say in how the industry will look going forward.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the construction sector?

We all discuss the shortage of a skilled workforce. However, this creates opportunity for innovation and technology to step in and create new processes including things like offsite building and new materials. We also have opportunities to encourage a new, exciting younger generation, to choose a career in construction.

How does CAN support and promote the region’s SME contractors?

We really want to promote to all our regional construction clients the benefits of regional contractors. These can be in the sectors of local authority, healthcare, education, housing and general construction. We want them to think how they procure their projects, how they manage them and how they appoint the contractor and the reasons behind that.

The construction industry, for many years, has been a race to the bottom on costs. We need to help educate clients on cost verses quality. Our regional contractors produce some fantastic quality and should expect to be recognised for that and given opportunities on regional contracts.

What can be done to bridge the skills gap in the construction sector?

This is probably the biggest critical risk to the industry in the next decade. We are looking at having discussions with clients to see how our membership can help. We need to review, very quickly, the inadequate apprenticeship scheme and make it exciting for younger people. Often, trade roles become stepping stones to construction management roles, so coming into the industry at any level is an opportunity to a lifelong, well-paid, career.

We must also look at retraining and getting people back into employment and we have the opportunity to look at training programmes with local government to see how we can help them achieve this.

What does CAN want to achieve?

At CAN we have three main areas of focus.

Intelligent procurement. Simplifying the process, so regional contractors have access to regional projects, including local authority and government projects.

Fair payment. This is a complex area for contractors. It is to ensure they get paid what they are owed for the works completed and in a reasonable amount of time. In the last year, three large regional contractors have ceased trading with this being one of the major causes. This then trickles down the supply chain, damaging smaller companies, also.

Skills and training. This is critical to our industry. With an aging workforce, we are looking nationally at a deficit of well over 300,000 people by the end of the decade and we need to encourage new blood into our industry. Some of the traditional roles we have today, will greatly evolve over the next decade to something new and exciting.

If, by the end of the decade, we had helped our regional contractors procure local projects at a fair price with good payment terms and we have helped fill the skills gap through collaboration with clients, we would have achieved much more than we thought possible.

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