Building knowledge

This Issue This is a part of the Productivity feature

By - , Build 118

Concern over low industry productivity has prompted a programme to extend industry’s management knowledge.

Construction management is a well developed research area internationally that looks at the planning, coordination and control of projects. Construction management concepts are taught in engineering degrees in New Zealand, but it has not been prominent in research until now. It is a different story internationally at universities in England, the industry-operated Construction Industry Institutes in Texas and Hong Kong, and the European Construction Institute.

There was an attempt in 2005 to establish a ‘Construction Industry Institute – NZ’ based on existing international analogues, but this did not get off the ground. It was driven by the debate around procurement methods and the recognition that New Zealand’s building and construction sector had different knowledge needs around managerial practices.

New collaborative research

Now, a new initiative has been launched by The University of Auckland, AUT and Massey University to provide a collaborative research programme in this field. The trigger was the release in 2009 of the report of the Building and Construction Sector Productivity Taskforce, with its observation that the sector’s productivity was low and possibly declining and the suggestion that a number of areas of improved knowledge are needed if productivity levels in the industry are to be brought into line with expectations.

The venture has a Research Programme Board to provide guidance and ensure good industry relevance.

Projects will share outcomes

BRANZ will provide nine postgraduate scholarships to this programme over the next 4 years. The universities involved will have funding from other sources as well, which will help them to build a wide portfolio of projects. They will have a collaborative web-based platform where research updates and publications can be listed and outreach to industry can be achieved.

The initial projects are likely to relate to the following topics.

DEFINITIONS OF PRODUCTIVITY

At its crudest, the definition of productivity used in the building and construction sector is ‘dollars of product sold per hours of work’. There can be a lot of factors that impact both the value of sales and the costs of inputs. Perversely, if the sale cost of a building rises in per square metre terms without any increase in the hours to produce it, productivity is deemed to have risen. The definition appears to take no account of the quality of the work done.

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NATURE AND CAUSES OF DEFECTS

The remediation of defects takes time and adds nothing to sales value, so it depresses productivity measures. The main research focus is to measure and categorise the prevalence of defects present at nominal project conclusion in the housing sector, benchmarking the data against studies in other countries. This should create a ‘snapshot’ of quality defect performance in the New Zealand house building sector and aid development of quality assurance schemes.

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INFORMATION FLOW AND USE

This PhD project is expected to explore the relative effectiveness of different information dissemination systems and analyse links between information flow and productivity from project to sector level.

Integrating activities

Action is also being taken between BRANZ, the Department of Building and Housing and BCITO to address other productivity-related issues from the taskforce report. BRANZ will be ensuring that the university consortium’s work is integrated with this Wellington-based activity and will encourage links to other research initiatives in this field.

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