August/September 2021

Building back better

Laing O'Rourke, St James Quarter

Interview with Eamonn Dolan, Operations Manager at Laing O’Rourke
Originally featured in the BITA magazine NetWorks

“This past year has seen some sectors forced to close their doors to help the country manage the spread of covid while others have continued; albeit with dramatic adaptions made to the way they operate. Nearly all businesses have had to seriously consider how they will adapt and prepare for returning to normal, and whether there might be improvements to make while they are at it. The sudden and dramatic change to the way we go to work was completely unprecedented, it is likely that a consequence of covid will be an acceleration in dynamic or different working patterns. With that significant shift comes a need to adopt technologies and to adapt workplace cultures; every business must recognise shifting sands and make necessary future-proofing investments.

“The economic growth that comes with large-scale projects is essential for economic recovery and the nation’s future prosperity.”

Eamonn Dolan, Operations Manager, Laing O'Rourke
Eamonn Dolan, Operations Manager, Laing O’Rourke

“I believe that a large part of this will be around investment in staff development and training, as well as the investment made in technologies that will serve a tangible purpose in driving innovation and productivity. These are the essential areas that will promote growth and success. My own organisation, Laing O’Rourke is an international engineering and construction company. Throughout covid the UK government called on our sector to continue safely operating, maintaining progress on important social infrastructure, and in recent times has said that the industry made “an invaluable contribution to supporting the economy.

“The ‘Build, Build, Build’ and ‘Build Back Better’ mantras over the past year have emphasised that UK infrastructure is essential – not just because our country needs new hospitals, schools, railways and power supplies, but because the economic growth that comes with such large-scale projects is essential for our economic recovery and the nation’s future prosperity. Complex engineering projects need to attract, retain and develop a diverse cohort of skilled personnel to bring them to fruition. And those people need to be empowered to spearhead the modernisation and reform required of the construction industry to ensure it remains sustainable.

“Training and development in areas of digital literacy, digital technology and data interpretation will support productivity, efficiency and quality of delivery and furthermore, will help in the attraction, retention and inspiration of new generations of talent for our sector. This push to secure the next generation of skilled workers is business-critical and it’s fundamental in driving change and increasing the pace of modernisation. At Laing O’Rourke we have sought to attract people with diverse skills and career experience from industries one may not immediately associate with construction and engineering.

“We have found that skills learned in industries such as gaming – immersive technology, app building and augmented reality can be easily transferred to a digital engineering environment, and that convergence of industry knowledge brings great value in our drive for innovation and change. Equally important to attracting new talent is the commitment to improving the skills of an existing staff base and in this regard, we have recently shaped a new professional data apprenticeship, giving an initial cohort of 87 colleagues the opportunity to train in data capabilities.

“It is an investment that we see as critical to the positive transformation of our business and to the sector. Of course, focusing on technical skills and capabilities is but one element of investment. The construction industry remains a predominantly male environment and we are missing out on talented female, ethnic minority and LGBT candidates. In relation to gender, the campaign group WISE points to the fact that women account for just over 10% of engineering professional occupations. While the figures are growing, diversity remains unacceptably low in our sector.

“In April of this year, Laing O’Rourke announced far-reaching sustainability targets, including a commitment to achieving equal numbers of men and women among our 5,500 global staff by 2033, with additional plans to increase the number of people from different under-represented groups. We see this ambitious investment in diversity as a key strand of our business’ mission to be the recognised leader for innovation and excellence. As we emerge from covid and transition into whatever a new normal might become, investing in new technologies, committing to developing the skills of your people and to shaping a more diverse employment base is going to remain fundamental in future proofing any business.”

Teamwork at Laing O'Rourke

Research by the UK Government has found that almost a quarter of employees use advanced data skills in their work, yet a shortage of skills in this area is estimated to cost UK businesses £2bn a year. The engineering and construction sector is awash with big data: yet 96% of this data goes unused in the industry, and 90% of data generated is unstructured. Proving its commitment to a data-driven culture, Laing O’Rourke has invested in a pioneering Data Academy to improve skills across the entire organisation.

Initially, 87 of its people taken from a range of disciplines including engineering, quantity surveying, design management to human capital, IT and finance; ranging from early talent to experienced individuals; will gain skills through data apprenticeships delivered in partnership with Multiverse. The Data Academy programme delivers best-in-class training in data analysis and over the 18-month programme, the data champions will master data wrangling and analysis techniques as well as covering data science, including an introduction to machine learning.

The move shows a commitment from Laing O’Rourke towards on-the-job training and skills development for its staff. The new skills will drive greater efficiencies in shared functions and create repeatable and scalable processes, where data is used to create certainty and predictability in project delivery for clients. Laing O’Rourke saw the decision to invest their apprenticeship levy in the new Data Academy as a vital part of their transformation journey, and a valuable addition to enhancing the experience already held within the organisation.

Euan Blair, CEO and Founder of Multiverse, said: “The fastest growing apprenticeships are in data, tech, and the jobs of the future. We’re incredibly excited to partner with Laing O’Rourke to deliver a Data Academy to their team based on intensive coaching and an applied learning experience. Data is at the heart of their operation and a vital part of the modern construction industry – this data academy will help the company embed these skills across their workforce and provide incredible opportunities for those looking to reskill.”

Amy Lindsay, Chief Data Officer at Laing O’Rourke said: “The amount of data that will be flowing through construction sites in years to come will be ever growing with new technologies and sensors; drones, IoT, computer vision, etc.; with greater connectivity between actors -design partners, supply chain, local communities. The untapped potential is huge and the horizon for data analytics limitless. Investing in our people to diversify our skill sets and nurture new talent streams ahead of the curve is the best decision that we can make.”

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