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FT Future of Construction Summit

FT Future of Construction Summit

Driving productivity through disruptive innovation and collaboration'... with added girl power.

It's all-too-often the case at construction industry events: men dominate the scene, while the few women present, group together. However, when attending the Financial Times Future of Construction Summit 2017, I discovered that instead of huddling in the corner, the women were very much in the limelight; strong, knowledgeable and confident.

Following their lead, I meandered through the 'Great Hall' of One Great George Street, near to Westminster in London, introducing myself to different people before taking my seat in the theatre.

The day was packed full of presentations, speeches, and panel discussions, consisting of influential speakers from companies such as VINCI, Skanska, MACE, and BIM – to name a few. The first keynote address came from Jérôme Stubler, chairman at VINCI Construction. Setting the theme for the first part of the day, he discussed the current state of the industry and why new technologies are key for increasing productivity and boosting collaboration across the value chain. He added: "The automotive industry was using BIM (Business Information Modelling) years ago, we're 30 to 40 years behind them."

Jérôme's concept echoed throughout the rest of the morning's agenda, with interesting questions and statements posed by the audience. "Everyone talks about the need to collaborate, but no one's actually doing it." To which Harry Ibbs, head of BIM project delivery and workflows, responded: "Each company has its own agenda, so how are we going to collaborate? Someone needs to enforce it!"

The closing panel before lunch, left us thinking about the scope of the industry and how we can collaborate, when 'we all have our own agendas'. "From design through to construction, the industry is full of different companies, with different challenges and requirements, and the sheer pace and breadth at which technologies are evolving, can create quite the disruption," said Paul Neto, UK managing director for HB Reavis Construction.

Girls are doing it...

Still processing the morning's information, I retreated to the Grand Hall. Noticing the women had come together to eat their lunch, I decided to join them. After introducing ourselves – in between mouthfuls of food, which we awkwardly ate, standing up – it became clear why these women held such a commandeering presence. Many of them were part of the National Association of Women in Construction, or NAWIC as they called themselves. Present across seven regions, including the UK and Ireland, NAWIC encourages women to pursue successful careers in the construction industry.

NAWIC's dedication to 'levelling the playing field across the industry' was inspiring, and for the remainder of the Summit, I enjoyed hearing their insights and opinions on the issues raised.
The afternoon focused on the future of the industry, including how to interest new talent. Ibrahim Odeh, founding director of Global Leaders in Construction Management at Columbia University, raised an interesting point about attracting millennials. "We need to offer them benefits," he said. "The younger generation look for flexibility, but also control."

Sailing close to the topic of Brexit – which many seem to shy away from – Lisette van Doorn, chief executive in Europe of Urban Land Institute, said the uncertainty that Brexit brings could drive away new talents from the UK for the next two years, leaving us invariable weaker as an industry.

After a busy but stimulating day, I reflected on the day's events. I was comforted by the knowledge that the construction industry is looking to the future with a pragmatic and collaborative attitude, and that, perhaps most importantly, women have a strong place in that future.

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