CIC Blog: Tony Burton

| Filed in Blog, Diversity, Tony Burton
Diversity Matters

Tony Burton

Diversity Champion for Construction Leadership Council

Chairman Construction Industry Council


When I agreed to take the role of Diversity Champion for the Construction Leadership Council in November last year I did not think that my first publication under that heading would be in response to an attention grabbing headline in Construction News:

“Half of top contractors say diversity at their firms is ‘sufficient’ – CN Barometer, (7 January 2015.)

Beneath the headlines this means employing ‘sufficient’ women, graduates, apprentices and ethnic minorities, whilst simultaneously complaining about lack of skills and insufficient staff.  Mike Putnam, Chief Executive of Skanska responded, quite rightly in my view, by saying that this was ‘rubbish’.

With just 12% women in the construction workforce and just over 7000 apprenticeships completed last year this cannot in any way be sufficient.

The one common theme causing most senior management to lose sleep at the moment is lack of skills and shortage of good skilled staff.  Our industry lost over 400,000 jobs in the recession and a further 400,000 people will retire in the next decade.  With 10 % of our workforce between the ages of 19 and 24, 12% women and about 5% from a non-white background, construction cannot possibly fill the requirement for skill and jobs by looking to a pale male graduate supply.

Diversity matters because diversity means business.  Without diversity our businesses and our industry cannot thrive.  It is not only the right thing but it is now a compelling commercial imperative.

So what is the Construction Leadership Council doing about this?

It is no accident that the Industrial Strategy “Construction 2025” produced by government and industry in partnership, put PEOPLE first on its agenda.

The Construction Industry Council and its Delivery Group are working on a number of initiatives to address some key challenges. 

In spite of many excellent efforts we still have an urgent need to improve the perception of our industry amongst young people at school, their parents and their teachers.  We need to get across a compelling story that our industry is an excellent place to build a long and rewarding career with a real diversity of jobs available to all who want to join us.

CLC Delivery Group is working on proposals for a common gateway for information and advice, with clear entry routes into the industry.  An effective common industry framework for engaging young people with a gateway website.  A ‘shop window’ for our industry with a clear message that whatever your background or academic ability, construction can offer you opportunities and a rewarding career.

Whilst inspiring young people is the immediate focus of CLC and its Delivery Group to improving the image and attractiveness of the industry it is only the start.

The young people who are attracted to join us will in turn attract those that follow them.  But to create a diverse workforce we must retain a diverse work force.  

Many people have said, and particularly women already involved with construction, that we are not a welcoming industry.

Persuading women, and indeed men, to make a career in construction will remain a problem until this is addressed, and cultural change is at the heart of this.  Modernising employment procedures, embracing technology that allows flexible and remote working, creating the training opportunities which allow women and men with young children, those who care for relatives and those with disability to participate in our industry and grow to management roles are key to attracting and retaining diverse workforce.

Our industry is a vital economic sector.  If we are to remain so and our business to continue to thrive, then we need to recognise that we must attract and retain people from the whole of the talent pool. 

Diversity matters to business because diversity is business.

| Filed in Blog, Construction, Tony Burton
Corruption in Construction: What can be done?

Tony Burton

Construction Industry Council (CIC) Deputy Chairman and G&T Senior Partner 


Corruption has always been a perceived problem in the construction industry, but recently, and with the event of the Bribery Act, it has come more to the forefront of industry minds and the concern over what to do it about it is prevalent.

In September last year, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) released their second report exploring this issue and determined that 49% of industry professionals believe that corruption is either fairly or extremely common in the UK. The report also concluded that 50% of people feel that the UK construction industry is not doing enough to prevent corruption. Comments from respondents indicate that the majority of those working in the industry are not happy with the current situation and would like to see better measures in place.

Whilst this report sheds light into perceptions and reasons for fraudulent activity, it doesn’t cover every base. In my opinion, the 49% that believes corruption is common should also have been asked if they had any hard evidence because being able to recognise it, or prove it, is a crucial part of this whole debate.

One of the big problems the industry faces is that UK law enforcement agencies have an acknowledged lack of information on activity in the construction industry.

Shortly after the CIOB report was published, I was asked by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to meet with two officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) as they too were conducting research into economic crime in our industry and wanted to know more. During my two hour interview I described to them how the industry works, areas where it is vulnerable, and where in the construction process I believe corrupt activity might occur.

The NCA taking an interest is a positive step, but the questions remains: what can be done to tackle corruption in construction and for the industry to better protect itself?

Next month, in my capacity as CIC Deputy Chairman and as a direct result of interest from CIC members following my meeting with the NCA, I will be chairing a workshop that will cover issues such as what corruption is and how it can be recognised and how professionals can combat corruption and fraud. We will aim to identify where the opportunities for corruption are and seek advice from bodies such as CIOB, the NCA, and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Key to this workshop will be the two-way dialogue we can get going with such agencies, so that we can educate them about our world as well as them educating us.

This session will, I believe, be a very serious first step in getting on top of this problem once and for all.

If you have any thoughts or opinions about corruption in construction, please contact CIC Policy & Public Affairs Officer Ciaran Molloy

Contributor: Tony Burton is Deputy Chairman of the Construction Industry Council and Senior Partner at Gardiner and Theobald LLP. For more information on Tony and Gardiner & Theobald visit

Tags: Corruption, G&T, Gardiner & Theobald, CIC, Chairman, blog
| Filed in Blog, Skills, Tony Burton
Skills shortage in the construction industry

Tony Burton

CIC Deputy Chairman & Senior Partner at Gardiner and Theobald LLP

The recent forecasts for the UK economy suggest that, at last, things may be improving.  The governor at the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said that the UK recovery has taken hold and expects un-employment to fall sooner than was forecast. 

In the construction sector we are also coming round to the idea that we can at last look forward rather than backwards. Whilst this is very positive, we need to consider the impact it will have on resources. With renewed growth comes the need for more people and skills.

As we emerged from the last recession we entered a skills shortage. It took the construction industry about 15 years to replace the more than half a million people it had lost.

As we emerge from this recession, which is widely acknowledged as the longest and deepest in memory, we are likely to face the same critical shortage of skills.  We are also entering a time when we will see more people retiring from the industry than new entrants joining it.

Additionally, evidence is already emerging of greater mobility in the workplace with people moving for ‘better offers’. So, unless we increase the supply of skills and people joining the industry, all we will see is an increase in the cost of employing those people already with us.  I am very much in favour of paying people what they are worth but I do not want to see enforced salary escalation caused by a skills supply shortage.  Particularly as this still leaves too many people working too hard through a continued lack of resource.

It is therefore vital that all of us involved in construction and property work together to inspire the next and future generations of school leavers and convince them that they can have full and rewarding careers in our sector.

This must involve not just employers, but professional bodies and academic institutions, and a strong positive leadership from Government and the Construction Leadership Council.

The Chief Construction Advisor, Peter Hansford, has called for us all to “get out there and shout about construction”. He puts the people aspect of Construction 2025 at the top of the agenda with a positive campaign to change the image of construction.

As part of this campaign, we need to start with education. How many young people in schools, if asked to name a profession, would readily quote a profession from our industry?  We need to become an industry of choice for both boys and girls making choices about their future career.

The National Careers Service website needs to be revamped for construction (as it is going to be for engineering). Search terms need rethinking so that those researching a career in construction can actually learn about it. At the moment, it seems that you already need to know what a quantity surveyor (QS) is if you have any hope of finding it on that site. And once you do find it, the information on there is inaccurate and certainly does not describe the career I’ve enjoyed!

Next we need to look at diversity. Only 14% of people involved in construction are women, and only 2% are from ethnic minorities.

Of qualified QSs in the UK and Ireland, only 8% are women and 4% are from ethnic minorities. For trainee QSs the figures rise to 15% women and 12% ethnic minorities. (The latter is the only figure that is representative of the UK working population).

Across the whole industry the figures are rising but we clearly have a lot to do. The recent ‘Open Door’ initiative from the UK Construction Group has allowed people to see how we go about creating the fabulous buildings which remain as our marketing collateral for 50, 60 or more years.

And there are many other initiatives from various parts of the industry. If we are to have enough resource with the right skill, we need a whole industry initiative to attract talent into our sector. Without this we will simply not have enough resource or the skill base to deliver the construction projects, building and infrastructure that we already know will be needed.

Finally, we need to look at funding. As a response to the skills shortage in engineering, Business Secretary, Vince Cable, recently announced a number of measures to attract people to that profession, which is backed by almost £50 million of funding from various sources.

This is EXACTLY the kind of positive leadership we need to see to attract talented young people to the construction professions.

We should all support Peter Hansford in his cry to change the image of our industry and shout about construction. We cannot create good people with vital skills overnight but we do need to start now if we are to achieve the vision for our industry set out in Construction 2025.

So can construction get the same support as engineering? With the links between industry and Government at a better level and stronger than at any time in my career I would like to think that we can.


Contributor: Tony Burton is Deputy Chairman of the Construction Industry Council and Senior Partner at Gardiner and Theobald LLP. For more information on Tony and Gardiner & Theobald visit

Tags: Skills, Construction 2025, Peter Hansford, Tony Burton, Construction Leadership Council, National Careers Service Education, CIC ConstructionSkills, Diversity