GoContractor Dublin Breakfast Briefing Part 1: Don Ward

12 January 2018

Don Ward

GoContractor’s Dublin breakfast briefing, held in Ely Wine Bar on November 7th was focused on the topic of ‘The Future of the Hard-Hat Industries’. Don Ward, of Constructing Excellence, was the first speaker and gave a thought-provoking presentation on this topic, asking difficult questions to the construction sector professionals in attendance. Ward has experience in construction throughout the world and made it clear that the issues facing Irish construction are not unique to Ireland, but are being felt across many countries to various extents.

Would you recommend this industry to your kids?

Although it was early in the morning, Don Ward was not interested in being gentle and sugar coating the issues facing the construction industry. He listed the concerns that affect the industry, that he has seen across the world in his experience.

  • Not enough money around for the amount of construction that needs to be done.
  • Not enough people want to join the industry.
  • Not enough adoption of tech to improve productivity.
  • There is not enough profit in the industry to reinvest and create a modern industry.
  • Apprenticeships at an all-time low even with government initiatives.

Ward’s opinion is that, in its current state, construction is not adequately situated to meet these challenges. As he explained later in his presentation, a lot of these issues are related, such as a lack of adoption of technology being partially responsible for not enough young people wanting to join the industry. The traditional industry needs to modernize in order to put itself in a position where it can overcome these problems and thrive in the future. According to Don Ward, these problems can be overcome but changes to the industry must be made.

Better jobs, better paid, safer, higher quality, what’s not to like?

One of the things that makes Don Ward most optimistic about the future of the industry is the promise of modular and prefabricated construction. The ability to build offsite is enabled by technology and the upsides are very attractive: Lower costs, higher quality, safer for workers and more appealing to younger workers. The high and consistent quality is a vital piece of this as the focus becomes creating the buildings we need in the future.

We buy cars, maybe even baked beans, with more sense than we do in construction.

There needs to be more of a focus on quality going forward if the construction industry is to be successful. Countries like Ireland have an aging population and buildings need to be designed to match their demands, according to Don Ward. The “build environment” can create smart buildings for people with dementia that are capable of sensing if someone has fallen down and alert family members or a healthcare professional. This is only possible however if there is a change in how the bidding process works so that all parties put more of an emphasis on quality rather than just price.

Don WardJulie Currid, COO and Co-Founder of GoContractor, with Don Ward of Constructing Excellence

Construction projects, and the industry as a whole, goes wrong from the start with the idea of lowest price wins. The lowest price that wins the bid is often subeconomic, meaning that there is no way that this price can be delivered. According to Ward, there is no single party to blame for this situation but everyone, including customers, need to be aware of the negative implications the current process has on build quality. This system does not allow for the high quality schools, hospitals and homes that are needed.

What if we made money out of the quality of the products we provide?

Improving the pipeline of work is one area which could have hugely positive effects for the sector as a whole. A steady pipeline enables construction companies security to innovate and respond to the challenges they are facing. Governments and clients need to be aware that a pipeline allows companies to invest back into IT infrastructure and training, helping to build a sustainable business that provides high-quality projects.

Realizing there has to be a better way.

The traditional practices of the construction industry are not ideal for anyone and all parties are coming to this realization, according to Ward. Governments are showing a renewed focus on the power of infrastructure as a societal force. Poorly designed and maintained infrastructure negatively impacts on productivity levels across the economy, so it is the good work of the construction companies that can help improve society.

Ward has heard anecdotally about an increase in the number of ‘intelligent clients’ who recognize the value that comes with slightly more investment in the design stage to create a quality building. The ratio of value to design is so high that it should make perfect business sense for more clients to focus on the design stage. Ward favors an integrated design process where contractors are brought into the mix, calculating that over a period of 20 years, the ratio of value to design could be as high as 10,000 – 1.

The Minecraft Generation

One of the major challenges the sector faces is in attracting young people into the industry. The answer to this problem has to begin with incorporating technology into industry practices to attract young men and women. There are huge opportunities to attract young people but it requires a single sector approach to achieve this goal. It’s not enough for one company or trade association to go into a couple of schools because there will almost inevitably be contradictory information. “Everyone needs to be singing off the same hymn sheet,” said Ward.

Everyone present for Ward’s presentation was left in little doubt about the challenges facing the construction industry. Issues to do with procurement, an ageing workforce and inadequate pipeline of work were all addressed. However, this was a practical presentation and Ward did not touch on a problem without offering a solution. There was actually a lot to be optimistic about. The construction industry still offers young workers an exciting career and the chance to see the world. It’s just that there is so much more potential if the power of technology is harnessed and changes are made to modernize the industry. There will always be a construction sector – both in new builds and maintaining and renovating old ones – but by making some changes, the construction industry can ensure it thrives in the future.


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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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