UK construction must start to invest seriously in innovation, research and development if it is to compete and survive in the world marketplace, Laing O'Rourke chief executive Ray O'Rourke warned industry bosses this week.
In a rare public speech to guests at the Chartered Institute of Building's annual dinner at London's Guildhall, O'Rourke urged the industry to think seriously about future investment. 'My view of the future is that we have to change,' said O'Rourke. 'We need to generate sensible returns so that we can invest in research and development.'O'Rourke said that on a recent trip to Japan he was amazed by the scale of modularisation that he witnessed in the construction industry, pointing to one factory in which robots produced more than 50,000 homes a year.'We have to innovate,' he said. 'We still turn up on site with rebar and tying wire, whereas in Japan it is now all being welded in a factory with robots.' The UK must radically overhaul its practices, he said. O'Rourke cited the Heathrow Terminal 5 project, for which Laing O'Rourke is the main civils contractor, as an example. Innovative design and construction, plus unprecedented collaboration throughout the supply chain meant that the project would be delivered months ahead of schedule and on budget, he said.O'Rourke also pointed out that the construction skills shortage was largely of the industry's own making because it had failed to progress and adopt the kind of innovation and modern practices now used in the motor industry. 'We have to attract the brightest and best,' he said. 'Construction is the most exciting and fun industry to be in, but we have dumbed it down. We haven't looked after our people. We offer bright young people from university £25,000 to have their butts kicked compared with £45,000 in the City.' O'Rourke also reminded the industry of the opportunity presented by the London 2012 Olympics and berated the press for adopting what he felt was a negative attitude to the project.'I have no doubt that it will be a stunning event with a wonderful legacy,' said O'Rourke, whose firm is part of the CLM consortium delivering the project.'Think in positive terms. This is just the beginning. Over the next months and years everyone will be proud of what we've done.'