Designing our future

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Welcome to my last Chief’s Chat as RMBF chief executive! It’s certainly been an interesting challenge for me to draft an entertaining and engaging editorial each month.

 

And when you have done 32 or so of them over three years, I can honestly say it’s been a lot of fun.

 

And I have been always amazed, as I have travelled around the country catching up with builders — members and non-members — as to how many people actually read these editorial pieces! It’s what makes all that effort worthwhile.

 

In writing this last piece, I wanted to have a go at “future designing” the construction industry — in other words, what would be my plan for where the industry should be in 10 to 15 years’ time (if not as soon as we can!):

 

1 Profitability: First, we need to make sure the industry remains profitable. Our industry is no different than any other, in that the businesses that make up this industry all need to be profitable to thrive and survive.

 

We need to better understand the drivers of profitability, across companies large and small, and ensure company owners know how to make and keep their businesses profitable.

 

2 Meeting customer needs: Next, we need to ensure the industry is always up with the play with what our customers need, short term and long term.

 

Our industry can be a bit tardy in that regard, with a “what we built yesterday should be good enough for tomorrow” attitude.

 

We need to be constantly researching what our customers’ needs are and spreading that message throughout the industry.

 

3 Taming the boom and bust cycle: One of our biggest eternal industry challenges is surviving the boom and bust cycle that we seem to endure every 10 to 15 years. Some would argue that the boom/bust cycle helps weed out the poorer performers in the industry.

 

However, I would argue that the extreme boom and bust cycle brings our industry to its knees way too much.

 

We need to understand the drivers of the industry cycle — such as interest rates, immigration levels, government infrastructure spending, and demographics — and we need to work with the “owners” of those drivers to see what we can influence to ensure a more “steady as you go” approach.

 

We would rather be building 25,000 new homes each year and build $4 billion worth of commercial building on an ongoing basis, than build 30,000 homes one year and 20,000 the next.
We need to tame that boom and bust cycle to bring some ongoing sanity to the market.

 

4 Affordability and green/sustainability: I have always seen these two objectives as being closely intertwined. We can’t build sustainable homes unless they are affordable too.

 

Home owners won’t want to spend extra thousnds of dollars on a greener home if that extra cost puts the house out of their price range.

 

Affordability requires a fierce determination from those involved in the “fixed/competition-free” parts of what makes a house — such as land, regulation and compliance costs — to ensure their costs are as low as they reasonably can be.

 

Sustainability requires a great deal of research, information transfer and industry up-skilling to ensure we are truly delivering green buildings.

 

 

5 Quality/innovation and productivity/efficiency: This area comes in two parts — first, we need to keep a continued focus on raising the quality bar across the sector.

 

The second part is in two parts as well — as sort of noted above, we need to have a rules and regulatory framework that supports and enhances what builders do on site, rather than overly constricting them with so much red-tape.

 

Post leaky buildings, the regulatory pendulum has clearly swung too far one way, and now there needs to be renewed efforts to get that pendulum more in the middle.

 

Second, our building companies need to keep searching out faster and smarter ways of doing things in their business — on-site (eg, mass production of standard parts) and off-site (eg, taking up technology to run the business better).

 

We can’t rest on our laurels, and we need to keep driving that quality, innovation and productivity/efficiency focus across our industry.

 

6 Knowledgeable, skilled industry professionals: We need to ensure we have a knowledgeable, skilled, professional and appropriately-paid workforce.

 

For too long we have undervalued the skills base in our industry, and we paid the price for that in the late 1990s/early 2000s when we could hardly get anybody to work in the industry.

 

We have finally got industry training to where it needs to be, with 10,000-plus people in apprenticeship training with the BCITO and other training providers in our sector.

 

Long may that last on the one hand, and on the other hand we need to get the upper education and training levels sorted as well.

 

7 Products and materials fit for purpose: We need to know that the products and materials we use in our sector are fit for purpose.

 

We need to know that they will do what the manufacturers/suppliers say they will do, and we need to know that, in cases where it’s essential to know (eg structure and envelope), those products should be suitably tested and verified to know, as best we can, that they will do the job that we expect of them.

 

Most of all, we need a system that validates that fit for purpose, rather than having designers, builders and suppliers just relying on statements from manufacturers/importers.

 

8 An industry future that is designed and owned by the industry: We need an industry future that the industry has itself designed and owned. It seems sometimes that everyone else but the industry is having a say on our future — central government, local government, consumers etc.

 

On the one hand that is sort of okay because, in essence, everyone has an interest in the built environment. On the other hand, that’s not okay, because we need to own the future of our industry.

 

Builders want to build good quality, affordable and sustainable homes, and we know better than most, I suggest, how we should get there.

 

We need to get better, much better, at standing up for the industry that we want, and to design that future for ourselves accordingly.

 

So, there’s my 8 point plan! I am fortunate enough to have another role within the BRANZ Group where I can perhaps have some hand in seeing that plan come to fruition.

 

Finally, can I take this opportunity to sincerely thank all the people, companies and organisations that I have engaged with, worked with and dialogued with over the past three-plus years.

 

Enjoyable journey with RMBF

I have enjoyed my journey with Registered Master Builders immensely, and I hope I have added value to the organisation and to the industry over my time working in my chief executive role. I look forward to continuing to add value to the industry as best I can in my BRANZ CEO role.

 

Can I particularly thank Kevin Stanley, Ashley Hartley, Michael Fox, Brent Mettrick and Blair Cranston for their great support to me as RMBF/MBS Board members, and thank all the staff across the whole Federation for their great work.

 

And I look forward to reading the editorials from the next RMBF chief executive!
Best wishes to all.