How Commercial Construction Has Changed Since Your Dad’s Time

Written by LetsBuild

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Casting my mind back to my first commercial construction new build takes me back to 1991. It was an office block come call-center for a bank in the North East. We built well and we built to last!

Now, it is a British social expectation that a building is something permanent. The last time I worked on a Retail Park we were building stuff that was designed to last only 16 years! It was rubbish and we weren’t proud of it! One major retail chain didn’t even bother putting up suspended ceilings in their store! I worked on three of them, actually, that were like that! They must have got some pretty scathing customer feed-back because even they now fit their stores out to far higher standard – with suspended ceilings! – But with no longer a life span!

Being in Commercial Construction Today

Perhaps it wasn’t exactly in your Dad’s day but my Grand-Dad always told me that there was no higher calling for a man than to serve his time at a skilled trade. These days that doesn’t happen; youngsters go on to University, incur high debts and then can’t find a job. It used to be that commercial construction attracted and retained the most skilled of the tradesmen.

Shortage of Native English Speakers

Now we have an acute deficiency of native English-speaking tradesmen. We, in Britain at least, are dependent on Eastern European tradesmen. The ones in commercial construction are very good, too. But they create a problem we didn’t used to have in your Dad’s day: Communication! Their English often isn’t very good and we sometimes need to employ interpreters on our construction sites!

Firemen are Out

Firemen! In your Dad’s day the Fire Brigade used to have access to, and control of, fire containment issues on site. The trouble was, however much the ladies fancy them, they weren’t construction professionals and never had a grasp of the time and money implications of their input. The time came when they were effectively banned off commercial construction sites – except in case of fire – and their expertise was restricted to the Planning Stages of projects.

More Money for Safety but…

Health and Safety on site.  Commercial construction is rated as the third most dangerous occupation in the U.K. after mining and commercial off-shore fishing; but there is a twist to this HSE legislation and Regulation. Costs have gone up because of them, but annual deaths haven’t gone down!  The biggest cause of death, injury too, is plonkers working on site! This is something that hasn’t changed! If you’re on site you have to look out for these people and get rid of them!

Environment and Construction

It may seems strange but environment used to be kind of a bigger deal a few years ago. Commercial construction was reasonably sensitive about it and you could easily see it on site. We didn’t want to demolish a building until the blackbird’s chicks had flown the nest. Green building may be a good start today, but there are still many things that has to be done.

Procurement and orders issues

Everything used to be made on site; shuttering, steel reinforcement, all that kind of thing. Today commercial construction has it all brought to site by specialist manufacturers. One problem this creates for commercial construction is that we have to be very aware or procurement periods and get orders placed in enough time.

Check out also: How construction management has changed since your dad’s time

Working on Contaminated Soil

Where your Dad used to do the commercial construction stuff has changed, too. It was often on green field sites which expanded a town or city outwards. These were often soon surrounded by housing which the workers tended to buy so as to be close to their workplace. Today commercial construction is usually forced to do its thing on brown field sites and, often with very serious contaminated ground to deal with! On one site I spent £9½ million de-contaminating land! Even that had a nasty twist to it. The haulage contractor, who was supposed to dump the contaminated stuff we removed in a specified, specialized tip, just dumped it anywhere to save costs! They got prosecuted and, I think, someone was jailed for that!

Paperwork Still a Challenge

Just for now, a last thing that has changed in commercial construction since your Dad’s time is the amount of paperwork the project generates! It used to be something that we slipped in during a cuppa break. Today that is different!  I didn’t used to mind too much; being stuck on site for a couple of hours after the lads had left, when I was working away from home. I resented it bitterly if working within daily travel distance, though. It meant I couldn’t get home to my wife until that couple of hours later!All this paperwork pushes up costs, too!

Still, that paperwork frustration is a thing of the past for sensible commercial construction companies:-Go GenieBelt and get rid of all of it!