Paul Bruton, Joint Managing Director of Bennett Construction on Ireland’s tallest office development, challenging norms and exceeding benchmarks.
Between a number of projects in ‘critical services’ and the continuance of the construction sector in the UK benefitting the London office, Bennett Construction has weathered the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. Joint Managing Director, Paul Bruton says, overall, “Employment figures have remained at a pretty constant level with over 200 staff gainfully employed.”
Looking forward, he predicts, “We see a solid continuance of the data centre sub sector as a key area for 2021 and beyond – an area which has not suffered as directly as other sub-sectors during the pandemic. We see a considerable uplift in the volume of residential projects being planned and tendered and we have been successful in securing a number of developments over the past number of months.”
He adds, “International funding will be key on the delivery of the pipeline of private rented sector residential developments for the next three to four years. Government policy will need to stay the course during this period or funds will exit to other European cities to invest.”
Over the past 12 months Bennett has completed a number of prestigious office developments in the Irish market which included both the Grade A, LEED Gold rated North Dock and 76 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.
“Just ahead of the last lockdown we successfully handed over Zanzibar Locke, an apart hotel in Dublin for Saco, a client for whom we have delivered a number of previous schemes, and we are delighted to continue working for them on a number of other schemes including Beckett Locke in Dublin, and Buckle Street in London,” he adds.
“We continue to work towards completion of the EXO, Ireland’s tallest office development at the end of the North Quays, on which work has now recommenced post-lockdown and has led the way to securing another similar development within the Irish market.”
In London, they have recently completed Hounslow Place, a development of nearly 300 homes, and are currently constructing a number of large high-density residential projects, one of which includes a 257 residential unit development at Millbrook Park, due for completion in 2022.
Taking all this into account, he reflects, “The residential sector here and indeed in the UK looks to be a strong component for our pipeline for the coming two years.”
However, he is cautious about the challenges that are on the horizon across the industry. “With the re-opening of the economy and in particular the challenges in relation to safely continuing to deliver on commitments for the timely delivery of buildings, plus the additional pressure on material costs across the full spectrum of building products coupled with supply chain pinch points on steel and timber etc., it will be a challenge for the coming year or so.”
He also predicts the effects of the pandemic on recruitment may yet be fully to play out: “As always, the finding of new personnel across the industry particularly when work life balances have been re-assessed during lock down will no doubt come into focus later in the year.”
Challenging the Norm
Many of Bennett’s current projects, particularly in the Data Centre sector are BIM enabled, typically to LOD200 and LOD300. “This has been a valuable tool in the early collaboration, coordination and planning strategies for the delivery of fast paced projects,” says Bruton. “Both through traditional procurement and through our design and build projects, Bennett are continually encouraging innovation and challenging the norm. In the past number of years, we have embraced digital, cloud and mobile technology to great effect in terms of communication and coordination of projects.
“The use of BIM on projects has provided additional confidence in meeting client expectations in the terms of programmes and with greater cost efficiency for us. To date, the delivery of BIM on our project is not a given and we are guided by our clients requirements for the level of delivery required which is in turn guided by their long-term goals.”
In terms of prefabrication, many of the elements currently being delivered have been in the industry for a period of time. “Items such as pre-hung door sets or bathroom pods are more the norm than the exception, but we have worked closely with design teams and suppliers to hone the initial designs to accommodate lessons learnt and bringing our knowledge to the next level of innovation for projects by encouraging elements such as early dialogue and workshop forums through to last planner meetings to ensure the delivery process are streamlined as much as possible. More recently we have also negotiated orders for large precast frame elements which allow us to deliver on repetitive and modular type elements.”
When it comes to sustainability, Bruton says Bennett is committed to not just aligning with, but exceeding industry benchmarks for sustainability. “This is demonstrated through our commitment to achieving and maintaining quality standards including ISO14001, ISO9001, ISO45001, as well as our own KPI standards which require continuous improvement. Sustainable practice is not just a certificate on the wall. It is embedded into our working practices. We recognise that we are part of today’s ever-changing global community and as such the projects we create have a direct impact on society as a whole.”
In addition, the company’s corporate governance guidelines and corporate responsibility are, says Bruton, “a critical step in building trust among our stakeholders, clients, employees and society in general.” This encompasses award-winning systems and practices in health and safety, and supports around mental health and wellbeing for employees.
Skills and Diversity
“Without a doubt there continues to be a skills shortage in the construction industry, and this is a challenge for us all,” Bruton states. “As a company, our recruitment strategy is to hire professional staff who want to develop and build a career with us. Being a tier 1 contractor, we can offer employees the variety of work, the opportunities to grow and develop and the financial stability through difficult times.”
Demonstrating the wide range of opportunities within the industry is crucial to attracting a diverse workforce in his view also — “not just in the actual project delivery, but also in the associated industries and supply chains which deliver the final products.”
This starts with early interaction and education of construction as a career, particularly at national and secondary school level: “Over the past few years, we have been actively involved in the Solas Generation Apprenticeship Scheme and the promotion of the CIF Design A Home Competition which aims to advance the appeal of the industry to a younger cohort of students ahead of them making decisions on their chosen career path.”
He also notes the tangible benefits of having a diverse workforce. “We find diversity in the company can help foster creativity and offer a range of perspectives and ideas. A variety of skills, experiences and backgrounds can ensure employees learn from each other and ensure creative innovative solutions and practices.”
Considering the year that was, Bruton says, “The resilience of the construction industry to change and actively respond to the challenges thrown up in the initial pandemic wave and to put measures in place to limit the risk to personnel was a demonstration of what a resourceful and team-based approach can achieve in a short time frame was certainly an abiding memory from 2020.”
Over lockdown, he found both a challenge and a reward in keeping staff actively engaged while working remotely. “We have a great cohort of staff and their ability to see through the challenges and to continue to deliver a quality service with a clear focus on our clients expectations is one of my main takeaways from 2020.”