When it comes to putting innovation to work, you have to go a long way to match the construction industry. Every project comes with its own, unique set of problems to solve, and the industry always finds new ways of rising to the challenge. Sometimes, that means new materials or processes. At other times it comes in better software design or greener technologies. Whatever form it takes, innovation is the beating heart of construction, and it’s painful to see so much of it go unrewarded.
The UK government’s R&D tax relief system is the biggest incentive scheme of its kind, and it’s practically tailor-made to bring real benefits to construction firms. The problem is that they just aren’t applying for it. Partly, that’s down to the way the industry looks at itself. Research and development conjures up images of laboratory rats and bubbling test tubes. The truth is that, if you’re out there solving problems, you’re probably missing out right now. Out of the 290,000 construction firms in the UK, only 480 of them put in R&D tax relief claims in 2014/15. That’s a frighteningly low figure, given the £145 billion a year the industry’s contributing to the UK economy. It doesn’t come close to reflecting the importance of construction, and it shows exactly how many companies are missing out. The potential benefits of R&D tax relief are immense. An average SME claim can easily top £40,000, while larger firms can still get 130% tax relief on their qualifying costs. There’s honestly no good reason not to be claiming, but the message just isn’t getting through clearly enough.
The reasons for the looming crisis are complicated, and there’s no single magic bullet to fix them. What is clear, however, is that innovation is going to play a big part in the solution. Increased automation and digital tools are taking some of the heat off an overloaded workforce. Meanwhile, those same kinds of innovation are drawing in people from a much broader skill base. Construction employers can cast an ever-wider net when filling roles in their companies as the range of transferrable skills from other industries builds.
Innovation can be its own reward in construction, but doesn’t have to be its only reward.