Prefabrication could Transform the Construction Labour Model
Mark Farmer is the author of the boldly titled Modernise or Die: The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model. The report, now formally endorsed by the UK government, sets out a comprehensive vision for a construction industry at a critical juncture and in need of widespread transformation.
Low productivity, outmoded delivery models and a lack of technological innovation are just some of the pressing problems Farmer diagnoses.
According to Farmer, “The challenges which face the UK construction industry are not unique to Great Britain.” He sees numerous parallels with the Australian market and will be here in September exploring these as the international keynote speaker at the prefabAUS 2017 Conference – convened by the peak body for Australia’s prefabricated building industry.
“The fact is that there are some very generic problems with the construction industry’s basic delivery model that span the globe,” Farmer said.
prefabAUS CEO Warren McGregor reckons Farmer’s keynote presentation will be a highlight of the conference.
“Charged by the UK government to examine the UK construction industry and its ability to deliver what that economy will need in the future, Mark Farmer draws on his extensive construction pedigree to set out his compelling argument for change. Tellingly, the key challenges being confronted in construction are not unique to the UK but resonate around the globe.”
“We know that Australia’s construction workforce is ageing. Couple that with the low tech, low appeal way it is perceived by the workforce of the future, and the reality of our own situation comes into sharp focus. That’s why I am convinced that Mark’s insights also have much relevance in the Australian context.” McGregor said.
For his part, Farmer believes prefab just might be the “one big idea” the industry needs to turn itself around.
“My belief is that the solution to these problems lies in overhauling the basic design and construction process and finding ‘one big idea’ that governments, clients and the construction industry can collectively get behind, creating a real change agent. Past attempts to reform construction by concentrating on contracts, collaboration and behaviours have not worked; we need something that is much more hardwired to business models and physical delivery reform,” Farmer said.
“I believe that the ‘one big idea’ is the strategic move by construction industries across the globe towards greater levels of offsite or prefabricated construction.”
“Mark Farmer has articulated the link between prefabrication and much-needed efficiency gains. Prefabrication also paves the way for what Mark sees as the need for better cooperation between all the key players in the construction process,” McGregor said.
Prefabrication is one of the strongest areas of opportunity for transforming the construction industry. It can decrease construction time frames and construction waste while increasing quality, productivity and affordability.
“The Modernise or Die report is provocative and insightful – it’s a massive opportunity for those in the Australian prefab sector to hear Mark share his ideas,” says McGregor. Australia can become a world leader in prefabrication, Farmer says.
“The maximisation of pre-manufacturing’s potential is through Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) thinking and it is clear in this regard that Australia is leading the world in grasping this concept through the promotion of its Modular Construction Code Board Handbook.”
The Modular Construction Code Board is a partner for the prefabAUS 2017 conference.
Farmer believes that the construction industry’s clients, both private and governmental, need to play a role in making the transformation to more contemporary delivery models and underpinning the investment in researching technologically intensive, but more productive and efficient, means of prefabrication and construction.
“The move to a greater level of pre-manufacturing in most construction sectors is dependent on the need for a client-demand-led transformation. It is always more difficult for the industry to transform itself from within when the risk of investment in different technologies and models looks too high without clients specifically demanding this different approach,” says Farmer.
One of Farmer’s more radical proposals is that governments should be in the role of mandating innovation through progressive regulations that encourage the use of prefabrication. In Farmer’s search for best practices, his case study in the Modernise or Die report is drawn from the Asia-Pacific region. Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority works with industry to raise construction productivity and fundamentally change the design and construction processes, encouraging the adoption of DfMA and, in particular, the use of Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC). From late 2014 these techniques became mandatory for selected strata-titled residential Government Land Sale (GLS) sites as per the Singaporean Government’s Code of Practice on Buildability 2015.
“You only need to look at Singapore to see the influence of interventionist policy in setting a path towards industry change and improvement,” Farmer says.
prefabAUS CEO Warren McGregor says Farmer’s keynote address is sure to be a highlight of the 2017 conference.
“We’re really looking forward to hearing the provocative and timely ideas Mark will bring to the table. He will be joined at the conference by many leaders of the Australian prefab building industry. I fully expect Mark’s interaction with these leaders on our panel following the keynote will be a great opportunity to spin out these ideas for the local context. It’s bound to be stimulating and productive,” McGregor says.