Constructive 2021: Building our way forward

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RMBA chief executive David Kelly summarises this year’s Constructive 2021 Forum held in Wellington last month.

What a difference a week makes. There had barely been time to reflect on another successful Constructive forum before the sector was disrupted by another lockdown.

Former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was once asked what his government found most challenging. His reply? “Events, my dear boy, events”.

Covid-19 has now provided yet another challenge for us to rise to, as individuals, as a sector, and as a country. And, as we heard over the course of Constructive, we are already facing a myriad of complex challenges.

Constructive offers a platform for us to come together to give these challenges a good airing, and to provoke new ways of thinking about the perennial issues facing the sector.

Attendees’ engagement and focus over the two days were appreciated. As I reflect on the discussions, there are three key things that really stood out for me:

• What are the individual and collective roles we need to play in order to reset our sector?

• How do we make change while also keeping one eye on our key risks, with a key one currently being the well-being of our people?

• How can we build on the momentum of what we have achieved across commercial construction to allow us to shift the dial on housing?

Individual actions can shift the dial

One point I raised in my closing remarks, which I think is worth repeating was, what are attendees going to do based on what they heard at Constructive?

The Forum is not about waiting for others — Government or sector leaders — to drive change. It is about all of us taking action. That includes at an individual level.

Many attendees are already on board with this thinking, and in our feedback survey well over half of them said there were sessions that changed their thinking or the way they will do business in the future.

This is a great result, and is at the very essence of why Constructive exists — to generate ideas and have conversations that lead to positive change.

Another question to consider is what is in our control, and what practical changes can we make to work smarter and more inclusively?

We all have things we can control and things we can’t. Improving what we can control makes living with what we can’t control easier.

Whether it’s reducing waste, having a mental well-being plan, or taking on another apprentice, there are simple things we can all do that add up to a lot.

Making small, incremental and practical changes can still add up to a transformation over time if they are done across the sector.

Another way of framing that question is to ask what does “good” look like for my business?

That will be different from business to business, but when it all adds up, it will align with what good looks like for the sector — which, for me, is a sector that:

• controls its own destiny rather than being one at the whim of economic cycles and unnecessary and reactive regulation,

• can lay a strategic foundation alongside government to produce a continuous building pipeline to transform housing for the betterment of all New Zealanders who want access to rent or own a decent home, and

• can offer a rewarding career pathway for any so inclined to learn its skills.

In short, the sector is one that is recognised for the vital role it plays in creating the buildings New Zealanders interact with every day.

Every small change that brings your business a step closer to better practices and leadership is not only good for you, but good for the sector as a whole.

Close management of risk

Prudence is important too. As we heard at Constructive, keeping meticulous oversight of risk — which is constantly changing, as we’re currently experiencing — and management of your relationships will provide a foundation for a secure and sustainable future.

Relationships matter, and whether it’s with suppliers, the workforce — employees and subbies — or customers, how we treat each transaction and every person matters.

Another message that has come through loud and clear during conversations at Constructive is to take care of your mates. We need to do better, and there has been a lot of practical advice shared about how we can.

Our workforce is our greatest asset, and we need to lift our game to make our sector a safe, secure and rewarding one for people to work in. There is urgent work to be done for our existing workforce.

The good that will come from taking mental well-being seriously now is our future. If we take care of our mates, we will make more of them, because more people will be attracted to our industry for a career and as somewhere safe to work.

One theme that was constantly reinforced during Constructive is that our challenges are hugely complex, and there is no silver bullet to fix them.

In these circumstances it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But I believe we are a resilient sector. We’ve had to be.

I also think we are practical, adaptable and experienced people who can meet the challenges we face and those ahead of us, because we have done so in the past.

Responding to housing 

This year’s Forum included a full day dedicated to residential building and housing — maybe the country’s most pressing issue.

I was thrilled to see the positive response to these thought-provoking sessions. This shows how much the sector embraces thinking outside the box, innovation, and good conversation.

And I feel optimistic that positive change is happening. The Construction Sector Accord is now an established part of Constructive, it’s working well, and it can and will do more to help with key sector issues.

It is a key platform that allows the sector and the Government to talk to, rather than past, each other. And it lays a foundation for future transformation.

As an example, at Constructive we saw momentum behind tackling consenting issues, and a breakthrough there will feel like a breakthrough everywhere.

I’d like to repeat another message from Constructive 2021. Think about what more we can do to advocate on your behalf. What are the key things we can do that will help you build better?

As a platform, Constructive is about having the conversations that lead to further positive change on the worksite and in the sector.

Already, your feedback has provided fresh ideas for Constructive 2022, so keep them coming.

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