As recruiters working across offsite construction and MMCs, ARV Solutions have a really broad insight across the industry. We hear what’s going wrong, what’s going great. However, the views from job seekers and hiring managers are inevitably biased!
We talk to many people leaving organisations for career advancement, or as recently, due to business closures. When people leave, they rarely speak in the most positive way. However, when clients recruit, they paint the brightest picture of their business!
There’s widespread debate on social media, and as so often with these channels, the discussion too often descends into criticism, and often unfair and biased, or even without base.
So, I tread very carefully here in bringing up the subject of issues within offsite, after several widely publicised closures of offsite manufacturers.
Let’s get it out there: there must be issues around offsite that need fixing. There must be issues in individual companies that need fixing. But isn’t this true of every industry? Is there a specific problem with offsite, or are we actually seeing an unfortunate coincidence of several closures in close succession, in an industry that is otherwise rapidly progressing and improving?
I asked numerous industry experts for input to this, rather than solely trusting my own instincts (which we have accepted have to be biased!). Are there common threads? Feedback was entirely in agreement. I don’t think they’d been sharing their homework, but the agreement was incredibly closely aligned.
Also, it would be entirely unfair to comment on specific organisations. Individual criticism is best done in private, with praise best shared. Rather, the focus needs to be on the industry as a whole. Is there a systemic industry wide problem? Also, if offsite isn’t working, what’s the alternative?
The common threads:
- There are a lot of amazing people in offsite manufacturing and construction
- The industry would benefit from more standardisation and wider implementation of DfMA
- Collaboration is key!
Regarding the people involved in recent closures, and therefore returning to the employment market, there was total agreement that there are great people with wide ranging skills and capabilities. Matt Egan, of Modularize commented “This highly skilled workforce is now spilling out into the wider modular construction sector and that can only be a good thing for the industry”. Ryan Geldard of M-AR Offsite states “Many of those businesses have generated a new generation of professionals who have multi layered skill only possible due to exposure to the hybrid of manufacturing and construction we call modular! Many of these people are digital natives, used to working to minutes and hours than weeks on a Gantt chart … What they will take with them is a legacy of knowledge that can develop the industry further. “
ARV Solutions place many of the people taking businesses forward. From my perspective, the vast majority are highly skilled, and driving for ever increasing improvements. But the politics have changed. Once the most common issue for leavers was family owners in SMEs – particularly in relation to changing of the guard, and releasing the reigns. Nowadays we see more major investment from international companies, major insurers, merchant banks, investment groups and similar. The politics changes, with a need to satisfy stakeholders in different ways, and the agendas are different, and not always understood all the way through. The huge investment into offsite says a lot, and is taking the sector forward rapidly and to greater scales. There are bound to be bumps in the road with such growth and change.
Standardisation & DfMA:
If clients and Architects push for more individual looking buildings, and the industry pulls the other way for standardisation, we have a dynamic that needs resolving. Bending too far either way risks losing all. Matt mentioned “Specialisation, or lack of standardisation in our sector is something we need to solve…we are starting to see lots more manufacturers share test information that was once locked away in a safe, like fire test data for example. This encourages standardisation, interoperability and ultimately promotes resilience in the supply chain”. Wayne Yeomans of Algeco reports “Standardisation drives Safety, Quality, Delivery & Efficiency. More emphasis on standardisation and early client engagement with MMC providers at a programme level, would unlock the DfMA benefits for the procurer. Repetitious products align well to manufacturing processes, which in turn encourage investment.
For me, collaboration is the new competition! Our business has always driven for this both across our teams, and with clients. We reap great benefits from cross selling, information sharing, and working in true partnership for best recruitment outcomes.
From feedback, the industry is driven to see more collaboration. This came out as the strongest message from all. Matt commented that collaboration was the driver towards better standardisation, “Collaboration is key! Organisations like the Offsite Alliance literally scream this at the top of their lungs.” Referencing recent closures Matt states: “We should look to the great number of companies growing, collaborating and actually getting it right”
Wayne Yeomans states this as a key point for the industry: “Collaboration and commitment amongst MMC providers to lead and educate the Construction Industry of the alternative approaches. This applies to People, Platforms and Process.” Ryan Geldard, who has seen their business at M-AR Offsite grow hugely through collaboration, has interesting thoughts: “Collaboration is the only way to truly prosper in this growing market. I’ll admit that after time in the traditional construction market, I spent the first two years thinking very tribal …. not keen to share and equally unwilling to ask when unsure. Contracting can make you that way, it’s all about how much information one party has over the other to assert position over the adversary. Offsite knocks that out of you. Collaborating on anything and everything from business models, technical standards and manufacturing approaches has done wonders for our business and I’d hope we’ve helped others in the offsite community too. “
There are latent issues within construction that need solving, and offsite is the best bet for helping do this. Commenting on traditional construction Wayne states: “it is an industry which to all intents and purposes remains unchanged and has avoided automation/ digitisation”. Matt’s experience in offsite is also very broad and he comments We must remember that there are literally hundreds of construction contractors that have gone under since the start of the year. I know of only two or three modular manufacturers that have gone the same way and it’s not because the method of construction is flawed.
There was clear agreement the message needs to be louder and clearer. We have numerous Trade Associations and similar bodies driving this, and amazing events, like Offsite-Expo, and specialist seminar series to showcase the sector. We attend and exhibit at these as recruiters, and they are hugely beneficial. I often comment that we don’t need the visitors to show up – we can talk to the exhibitors and speakers!
Actually, we gain the most success from ensuring we invite people to see us. The industry (all the individual businesses within the industry) would benefit from redoubling efforts to bring in Clients, influencers.
Ryan is passionate about this and believes “We MUST get better at selling ourselves… we struggle to unite our voice and lead the change. Through the pandemic we delivered hospitals at speed, we’re leading the charge on low carbon construction, we have solutions that align to better delivery, greater productivity, and improved working conditions. Yet, despite this none of our biggest players are household names and most of the public don’t know what we do! By driving greater public awareness, we can, over time, deliver greater opportunities for MMC. We must step out of the shadows and sell!”. Wayne Yeomans adds “The perception of Modular needs addressing – it is a high quality product delivered correctly.”
People will have their own views on business closures. By the time of publication of this article I wouldn’t be surprised to see all of them up and running with new investment and renewed determination. Many of the skills will have spread across the industry, cross fertilising ideas and knowledge. The industry is dynamic and rapidly growing and evolving.
Offsite manufacturers and constructors, broader MMCs, and specialist supply chains will continue to grow and realise productivity and quality gains for the industry. The benefits are clear for anyone procuring buildings and all those wanting a high quality and efficient home. Whilst the environment in which we work would benefit from rapid evolution, and traditional mindsets need to evolve to gain most benefit, market share will grow regardless of the economy and wider affairs.
To close I quote one of my favourite offsite manufacturing production experts: “Construction is the last bastion for manufacturing”
Jim Roach is Managing Director of ARV Solutions. Recruiters to the offsite sector in the UK and internationally for over 18 years.