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When it comes to the future needs of the construction sector, there is a relatively clear understanding of where the industry is going and what it is being asked to do to bring forward a National Centre of Excellence, writes Sean Downey.

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Sean Downey, Director, Specialist Contracting, CIF.

The CIF’s Construction 4.0 sub-Committee has been dealing with the development of policy to improve productivity for the past number of years. In early 2020, we had the publication of the KPMG report on productivity and the implementation of seven actions that were recommended within that report that was then ratified by the building innovation report in June 2020.

The refinement of those seven innovation actions and the setting up of an actions leaders group chaired by PJ Rudden, who was nominated by the CIF and other industry stakeholders, has resulted in a complete step change this year in both the CIF approach to bringing forward the initiatives, but also in our engagement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).

National Centre Of Excellence

There is a relatively clear understanding of where the industry is going, what it is being asked to do and the nature of the collaborative model we’re going to have to adopt to bring forward a national Centre of Excellence.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) is launching a call for a specialist consultant to undertake a detailed description of needs for the industry, and that’s the traditional process they use for the establishment of a technology centre. It is best practice internationally that consultants come on board over a three- to four-month period and undertake a review of the background to existing research, development and innovation in the sector in the country and that this is benchmarked against other jurisdictions.

Then they would define what the model needs to be. It’s quite clear from the research that our groups (the RDI Working Group and the MMOC Working Group) have undertaken that there is a need for a single entity that supports three parts: Digital transformation; modern methods of construction including off-site; and a research and development centre. This process should be completed by the middle of 2021. They will then publish a roadmap for a National Centre of Excellence in Ireland.

Framework for Construction Innovation

Tim Ferris as Chair of the 4.0 sub-Committee has been leading the conversation with both EI and PJ Rudden. We are positive that in 2021 we are going to have a clear definition of the framework for how innovation, development of new products, systems and supports for the industry in terms of bringing forward off-site fabrication are going to be developed and supported by the State. We’re going to move quickly once the report is completed.

That is likely to lead to the establishment of an industry-led board that will have representatives from State agencies. EI will support it and manage the governance in the first instance. It will have an independent CEO, and it will set out its business plan for the first five years and seek both Government and industry funding to support it. Traditionally, that funding is 80% from the State, with 20% coming from industry. This will support the development of modular construction, off-site fabrication and system building, and we would like to think it’ll reinforce the need for standards in this area.

Specialist Contracting Outlook 2021

We are still at the peak of demand, but it feels like we have lost a year. There are indications that several projects have been delayed. I would like to think these delays are down to disruption in how design teams and client teams were operating, and it took them a lot longer to process the procurement stages. Hopefully, we’ll see many more public-sector projects being put out to tender in Q1 of 2021. Likewise, many private sector projects were suspended in 2020, so we would like to think investors will make positive decisions in that regard.


Many of our members have invested in apprenticeships. They have supported the CIF careers campaign, which is engaging with the next generation of construction workers. In 2019, a brand new apprenticeship in Engineering Services Management was developed in partnership with Cork IT, with 10 students enrolled. In 2020, 17 were successfully recruited into it. After completing the two-year programme, apprentices come out with a Level 7 degree in engineering management, a model that has helped bridge the gap between post-trade training and management.

Further reading

Charting A Course To The Future Of Construction

Barry McCall speaks with some of the people setting out the roadmap for Irish contractors to integrate Modern Methods of Construction into their operations.

Construction Industry Outlook 2021