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The construction industry is facing ever-increasing, complex challenges linked to climate change, diminishing resources, rapid urbanisation and shortage of skills. As these issues become more prevalent to society, the construction industry’s response is coming under greater scrutiny.
"Business as usual" will not help us overcome these existing and future challenges. In order to succeed, innovation must play an important role in ensuring industry is fit for the future.
Having selected seven graduates to be his apprentices, this year's ICE President, David Balmforth, set us the task of "making the construction industry more innovative", in line with his presidential theme "Civil Engineering: Fit for the future."
As recently graduated engineers, we know we will personally have to deal with the challenges ahead in our careers. Government and industry both recognise the need for a step change to ensure the industry is ready to tackle the challenges, and succeed, as highlighted in the Construction 2025 strategy.
To mark the end of our year as apprentices we have produced a report – Innovation: Stepping up the industry. Innovation should be everyone's responsibility, and the time to do it is now. My fellow apprentices will discuss the findings of our research via an ICE webinar at 12.30 on 15 October. (this will be available as a recording afterwards).
Construction 2025 sets out an ambitious vision for the industry, driven by a goal to achieve lower costs and emissions, faster project delivery and improvements in exports.
To achieve this we must become smarter, more sustainable and exploit our knowledge and talents across the industry.
We must become more innovative – but currently we are not seeing enough action to get us there.
Over the course of the year, we interviewed leaders within civil engineering, plus other industries such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace that are reaping the benefits from having innovation embedded into their working environments.
We have come to understand the key blockers for our industry and how they can be overcome, helping to answer the question "How do we unlock innovation?". Some of these blockers include the procurement strategies we employ, silo working and low levels of research and development.
We studied ground-breaking projects to see how innovation is being driven forward to create value for teams and clients, while keeping projects safe, ahead of time and under budget. We looked at the current work of Anglian Water's @one Alliance, and recently completed projects such as the London 2012 Olympics.
These are projects that made time for innovation, invested time and/or money into new ways of thinking and have shown how to unlock more value than could have ever been expected.
Despite the success of these projects, their lessons learned are not being disseminated well. Limited knowledge sharing is stifling the implementation of new ways of working. Innovation can be systematised – it can, and should, be planned for. Our work as apprentices has allowed us to identify key questions that any individual, company or client should ask themselves when seeking to implement innovative processes.
There is innovation at work in the industry. We know it is possible. But the current ad hoc nature by which it is applied does not allow its full potential to be unlocked. Focus needs to be on embedding innovation within our culture, and upscaling pockets of innovation to apply them across industry, in a way that consistently enhances our capability.
The leadership that exists within our companies and institutions has a vital role to play to embed innovation in our industry practices.
Projects like the London 2012 Olympics and Anglian Water's @one Alliance show how effective leadership can be instrumental in developing a culture that allows innovation to thrive, through collaboration and procurement strategies that incentivise and motivate companies to innovate.
A lack of innovation hampers productivity and stifles growth. "Business as usual" and standard practice is restricting the potential of the industry.
Our work has enabled us to piece together the building blocks of innovation and identify tangible ways to set an agenda for future construction projects. Our aim is to inspire, support and assist in the management of innovation and kickstart a culture that embeds it at every level.
Until we grasp the true value of innovation, we hold our industry back while failing to attract and retain the skilled and talented individuals who can help propel us forward.
Find out more information about the ICE President's Apprentices.