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19th November 2018

Construction Quality: It’s about our values

I recently asked a question online. It was a simple question and yet it started a conversation about Construction Quality Management that I think we can all learn from. This was the question I asked:

If you were to improve Quality Management within construction, what's the first area you would focus on and why?

The response was overwhelming. Comments came from a wide variety of professionals across our industry. Some themes soon emerged.

There was broad consensus that the culture of our industry needs to change. This was outlined in people highlighting an apparent lack of pride in our work being prevalent throughout construction. This in turn feeds into poor perceptions about construction from the general public. Subsequently, this leads to a shrinking talent pool, as young people leaving full time education pick other industries to begin their careers. As someone who has volunteered as part of the Construction Ambassador scheme and tried to promote our industry to young people, it’s hard to disagree.

Attitudes, values and behaviours were identified as crucial to changing the status quo in our industry. Indeed, you can have all the processes, policies and procedures you want in place but if your team do not have the right attitude you could be fighting a losing battle. Suggestions for tackling this included more values based recruitment procedures, which may go some way to ensure that those being employed have the values and behaviours required for their organization. Yet in an industry that is heavily reliant upon a model of subcontracting, this seems particularly challenging to say the least.

Poor contract management was a big area of concern. As one person put it, “Most issues in construction, in my opinion, stem from badly worded, misguided or worse written contracts which means companies cut corners on everything from design to competence to outsourcing.” This seems an important point to make, as a poor or unrealistic contract means everything must compromise, especially quality. Are we setting ourselves up to fail from the start?

It will surprise no one that training was by far the most highlighted area of concern, with a particular emphasis put upon supervisory competence. Indeed, it is true that a good supervisor will stop dangerous acts and teach best practices. Apparent failings in the current training regime of the industry were outlined, with one person saying that too many supervisors don’t have the required competence to clamp down on bad practice on site because they “think by attendance of a two day SSSTS or an IOSH course this qualifies them as a supervisor.” As someone who is involved in training within the industry, it won’t be surprising that I see it as an important part of addressing these issues. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the attitude large sections of us have to training is indicative of the quality crisis we find ourselves in. A ‘tick the box’ approach to training, attendance courses without follow-up and minimal commitment to genuine, real lifelong learning must surely hold some responsibility. There are big questions to grapple with regarding how training is carried out in construction.

Other topics of discussion to arise were commitment to proper digitalised collaboration processes (which again brings up the need for training!) and an appreciation of the meaning of quality for our project-based industry, as well appreciating the differences, and commonality, between quality assurance, quality control and quality management. I tend to agree that most construction companies understand the first two but sometimes struggle to grasp how they apply quality management across their business.

To my surprise, accreditation and adherence to particular systems and procedures were only briefly mentioned. ISO and various TQM management systems were brought up by a small number of contributors, yet they still felt that the culture of the industry and attitudes were the priority to address.

There’s no doubt that Grenfell changed everything. Our industry needs a complete culture change if it is to regain public trust. We must rise to the challenge and if the answers to my simple question are anything to go by, we’ve got a lot of soul searching to do and some difficult discussions about our values, attitudes and behaviours. Let’s get to it.

Martin provides training for the CIOB Academy's Construction Quality Management course, a new course launched in November as a result of the CIOB's Construction Quality Commission work.

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