We held the first working meeting last week in the Midlands. Why? Because we have resolved to hold each of our meetings offsite i.e. at a factory or related venue. We visited two factories which predominately supply the housing/accommodation market and use a steel based solution. Both visits had common themes:- the typical procurement route is tortuous at best, 70-80% of the skilled labour force is Eastern European, and the workload is increasing rapidly. A clear message we received is that factory made products are now no more expensive than traditional builds. Properly procured and designed they will be cheaper. Interesting to note that designers who can design for the factory are like hens teeth and they are a vital part of the quality regime. This, combined with the recent reduction in available Eastern European labour means that the offsite industry is potentially facing a skills shortage. And I thought offsite was supposed to help resolve the industry skills challenge. What became very clear is that there are businesses in the UK which are putting words into action, and with support and encouragement from clients can help deliver better buildings quicker and cheaper. There is concern at the potential threat from overseas competition, particularly China. This is very real as demonstrated by the use of a Chinese fabricator using Chinese steel for the mainspan boxes on the new Queensferry Crossing. 20 years ago that would have been considered impossible.
We will are drawing together a schedule of possible visits to include the automotive and aerospace industries which probably have a lot we can learn from. It should be very interesting and informative – do please get involved.