Article | August 25, 2021
writing this piece, there are hundreds of thousands of vacancies in the job market and companies closing or reducing service levels because they cannot get enough people. Yet at the same time, there are also hundreds of thousands of people at home because they are still on the furlough scheme. That such a position could exist – and be correct policy - shows how the job market has been turned upside down by the pandemic.
The issue of skills in the workforce has not been so critical for many years. When it comes to the workforce we need, the UK has not been growing its own for many years. That is compounded by restricted international movements from both the pandemic and changing politics. The very nature of the skills required are changing, too.
Article | July 19, 2021
While experts debate the finer points of what constitutes a true general artificial intelligence (AI) and the various steps that can get us there, it isn’t in any doubt that robots are getting smarter –and learning how to make better decisions-- thanks to various AI-related systems.
From the autonomous cars on our roads and the autonomous mobile robots in the world’s warehouses through to AI-powered machine vision systems, edge computing in manufacturing environments, and agricultural drones that can process huge amounts of data on the fly, AI greatly enhances robot performance by providing bots with intelligent decision-making capabilities based on an analysis of billions of data points coupled with neural network and deep learning strategies. Crucially, AI enables robots to be more flexible, while at the same time enhancing traceability across all types of automation processes.
Article | August 4, 2021
In amongst the chatter about how we can 'do' infrastructure better, there's now a growing consensus that we need to improve the way we design our interventions - 'design' in the broader sense of the word, rather than the narrow sense we tend to use as engineers.
My front-end principles for better infrastructure
Over the course of my career, the following front-end principles have served well to ensure we think through, before we rush in where angels fear to tread.
Be clear about the purpose and the expected outcomes, and engage communities in decision-making through an effective communication strategy.
Prioritise the user, aiming to offer services that are modern, effective and affordable.
Seek to improve people's quality of life and support the transition to a more sustainable future, while also facilitating the functioning of the economy, enhancing productivity and accommodating growth (to the extent possible, given other competing objectives).
Extract greatest value from existing infrastructure through timely maintenance, repurposing, renewal and upgrading. Seek to remove constraints and bottlenecks.
Aim to make best use of data, automation, innovation and technology (including for future asset management), recognising the complexity and risks this may introduce.
Recognise, analyse, mitigate and manage technical, environmental and climate risks, and complete any surveys necessary to support this.
Improve governance, with robust, timely and transparent decision-making, supported by strong evidence-based planning, clear prioritisation, and best practice technical design and delivery.
Seek an appropriate funding balance between 'user pays' and general taxation which incentivises behaviours in the best long-term social, economic and environmental interests.
Complete well-evidenced business cases and risk assessments of proposed initiatives before embarking on projects, including financing proposals. Aim to allocate the risks identified to those best able to carry them.
Facilitate collaboration between the government and business to promote delivery of the broader social, economic and environmental benefits.
Clearly, there are many other issues to consider as a project develops, and the above principles may seem obvious to some, and a counsel of perfection to others, but it's surprising how many are overlooked in the rush to build.
Article | June 8, 2021
This week’s World of Concrete in Las Vegas is the first major trade show in the United States since the COVID pandemic changed the face of the convention and meeting business. For many, this is yet another sign of life slowly returning to normal for the construction industry.
If you’ve made the trek to this year’s WOC, you’re looking forward to it all—new products, cutting-edge tech, interactive workshops, hands-on training, and no doubt—the Bricklayer 500! This one-hour competition tests the speed and stamina to name the world’s greatest mason.
Whether you’re there in person or too busy in the field to attend, we join you in celebrating all things concrete this week. Here are some weird and wonderful facts about concrete, a strong and versatile material, that is used in everything from our kitchen countertops to the roads we drive on daily.