Construction - A Diverse Industry
The construction industry is not just about building things; in fact, construction can be a misleading term, as it incorporates everything from designers, to financial backers and property lawyers, freelance quantity surveyors, site management, as well as engineers and site workers. With the largest UK construction project – Crossrail – due to open next year, it’s easy to see how essential the construction industry is not just as a major contributor to GDP, but to keep the country both moving and housed.
Construction can be split into three main sectors:
- Building – residential or commercial property
- Infrastructure – roads and other public works
- Industrial – chemical and manufacturing
If you consider that that’s a lot of rather different sectors piled up together, you wouldn’t be wrong – even the Latin word constructionem from which it derives means just that. However, the business of building things covers them all, from a basic house to a multi-runway airport.
If you’ve ever been involved in the process of building your own property from scratch, you will know just how complex can be, even if you’ve outsourced most of the actual construction to the experts. The business of land registry, planning and building permission, sourcing and purchase of materials can all add up to one enormous headache even before you factor in effectively acting as foreman and human resources department as well. Even though the vast majority of residential construction jobs are renovations or extensions rather than a real foundations-to-rooftop build, all projects have one thing in common – they need meticulous planning. Both dangerous and costly, residential and commercial construction needs everyone on board from accountants to health and safety personnel.
It’s not all about the builders, either – plumbers, electricians, carpenters, carpet fitters and painters and decorators all come under the construction industry banner, both residential and commercial.
Commercial buildings will have additional needs, not least ease of access and enhanced safety provision, especially if they are going to be used by the general public on a daily and occasional basis. The selection of appropriate materials and the cost of transport if they aren’t available from standard suppliers needs to be factored in, as does any waste material generated during the build.
Specialist engineers stick to the French origin of the word to the letter; the public nature of construction projects essential to the public at large means that they do form the base of society – from public highways to public libraries, through paying attention to town planning and services, the infrastructure sector of the construction industry is both the most essential and the one that comes in for most criticism. However, when you consider the daily heavy use that everything from roads to railways suffer, it’s no surprise that we notice when they go wrong.
Having somewhere to live and roads to drive along is all very well, but arguably the most important sector is industrial construction, without whom we couldn’t watch television, boil the kettle, or fry an egg. Attracting some of the most expert and niche professionals within the industry, industrial construction jobs also tend to have the longest training periods, and demand the highest qualifications. In addition to chemical and waste plants, engineers also oversee power supply, including nuclear energy.
The Step by Step process – from paper to build
To help underline the complexity of even a basic house build, it’s worth breaking it down into its component parts. For example, before construction can even begin, drawings will have been prepared, estimates obtained for materials and labour, and both client and relevant planning authorities will have approved the plans. All of that is necessary even before the ground can be cleared and the plot boundaries marked, let alone for construction to begin.
Laying the foundations requires timber, concrete, and damp coursing specialists, not to mention utilities installation professionals, and that’s still before an above-ground brick is in place.
The most important job
When you consider that even the smallest error at any stage of the construction process could result in disaster, no one role is less important than any other, although some demand considerably more technical study than others.
If you’re considering a career within the construction industry, it’s worth asking yourself where your talents lie – for example, if you’re good with numbers and technical concepts, training to be an architect, a specialist engineer or a RICS chartered surveyor might be for you. Practical skills have obvious channels, and if you have the added talent of being able to communicate with people on all levels and delegate effectively, site or project management could be the right path. Qualifications vary from degrees to specialist courses lasting a few weeks or months depending on the profession you’re studying for.
The Latin root might suggest that construction is a disordered catch-all term, but each profession under the wider umbrella is an essential cog in the construction machine.