How does it feel to see the return of an in-person gathering for Conference this year?
Virtual conferences worked to a point but more so out of necessity. Nothing can replace people coming together who want to listen and participate in the event. When people are in the room they are more in tune and concentrating on the presentations and discussions.
There is much better engagement with the panels minus the potential distractions that can exist with a virtual event. It’s also hugely important that people have the opportunity to network, whether just as a participant meeting up with people you know, making new contacts, or exhibiting your products and services.
The Southern Construct event in Cork was the first return to a full face-to -face event since Covid and included an exhibition space in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. This was a great success providing people with a facility to showcase their products and services and also allow for networking prior to the conference.
How important is the theme of this year’s conference?
The theme and detail for the conference is generally driven by where we perceive the industry to be and what are the pertinent areas for discussion. This year’s theme ‘Building a Resilient Industry’ comes off the back of the two covid lockdowns which in itself demonstrated the resilience of the industry.
However, moving forward we need to ensure that we have an industry capable of delivering on the programme for government and meeting the requirements of Ireland as a nation. We have always sought to remove the peaks and troughs of the economic cycle by ensuring we have the right level of government expenditure when required.
There is no doubt that the Government currently is willing to spend money on capital projects, however we must ensure that we have the right spend in the right location at the right time. This is particularly important when it comes to infrastructure projects, which are essentially the enabler to everything that follows.
Now that the industry is back, what are some key priorities that leaders need to act on?
We are acutely aware of the hugely ambitious programme for government with the National Development Plan (NDP), Housing for All, and the retrofit programme. It is our industry who are ultimately charged with delivering these programmes.
We know that government has questioned productivity levels within the industry and set about increasing outputs with the use of technology through the Build Digital Project and a focus on Modern Methods of Construction. I believe our industry is dynamic, is evolving and embracing new technologies and methods of construction.
However, I also believe that we as an industry must continue to evolve at pace to ensure we can meet and achieve these expectations. There are, however, significant barriers in our ability to deliver. In particular with regard to Housing for All. We have de-zoning of land, a planning system that is not effective, judicial reviews resulting in a significant quantity of residential units in limbo, and utility delays.
All of these issues, which are completely outside of our industry’s control, have the ability to significantly impact the ability of the industry to meet its targeted outputs.
Which topics of discussion do you think members should be particularly aware of?
One of the areas we have been looking at with the assistance of Building Info is to try and get a better handle on the NDP planned projects and expenditure. I think the presentation by Danny O’Shea in terms of economic and market outlook will be interesting and provide some hard data insights in relation to planning permissions and commencement notices.
Also, it’s great to see new contributors like Site Passport participating in the panel on ‘The future of construction: The industry’s journey to digital transformation’. The discussion around skills and apprenticeships is always interesting, but now more than ever, hugely important for our industry.
As our industry grows, we need to ensure we have the right skills available. We need to ensure we have many paths available to enter the sector but also that it is attractive and seen as a viable career.
About Frank Kelly:
Frank Kelly is COO of Walls Construction. With more than 30 years’ industry experience he joined Walls in 1992 as a site engineer progressing to contracts manager onto his current position. He has worked across a diverse range of sectors including commercial, retail, pharmaceutical, healthcare, residential, fit-out, industrial and education. He is also a board member of the Health and Safety Authority and co-chair of CSPAC, the Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee.