During October AIS FPDC members gathered for the association’s first conference since the completion of the merger in June. Held at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, the one-day conference was themed around Meeting the Challenge and saw delegates discussing key issues affecting the fit-out and finishes sector.

During the conference, which was sponsored by Service Graphics and SIG Interiors, AIS FPDC members heard from industry leaders who gazed into their crystal balls to see what the future could hold for the sector.

Funding and skills are the key issues that will impact on the continuing recovery and growth in construction according to Christian Spence, head of business intelligence at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. Mr Spence outlined that Brand Britain was recovering well and that the growing strength of the North West as the UK’s second largest economic area, worth £50 billion a year, was now an accepted position. He felt that the recovery was secure but the availability of adequate resources, people and cash, were the most critical issues facing construction. Mr Spence told delegates that late payment remains a scourge of the industry and £48 billion is tied up in late payments – on average every business is owed over £113,000 after the due date. “Payment terms of up to 190 days make life difficult. If the industry is going to grow this really must be addressed,” he commented.

During the morning further briefings were given to members from experts in the field of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and organisational change.

At the BIM breakout session Rob Jackson, from architects Bond Bryan, argued that BIM was about creating efficiencies and that the journey of change has only just begun. He said: “We’re currently developing BIM using generic content. The big change is being driven by main contractors who want to gain a competitive edge. BIM is a critical component for collaboration and is now about data and being able to interrogate it effectively and for subcontractors it will give them more accurate information to help price a job.”

Jozef Dobos from 3D Repro demonstrated their web-based interface with a built in 3D viewer. The product has been developed specifically as part of the Bid4Free initiative.

Joe Cilia, AIS FPDC technical manager, said: “BIM is still developing and we’re championing training to emphasise the need to drive change from the top down. It’s process driven and encourages collaboration across the sector.

“Main contractors are now expecting specialist contractors to be trained to work in this new environment. If you’re not then this could lead to fewer work opportunities.”

During the afternoon Suzannah Nichol, the chief executive of the National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC) challenged delegates to get more involved and use the strength of NSCC’s 7,000 strong contractor members to address the issue of fair payment and remove duplication of effort in processes, such as PQQs.

Adrian Belton, chief executive of CITB, gave his support to the fit-out and finishes sector and shared his plans for the future of CITB, explaining how it will become more customer focused, open and engaging to ensure that construction has a skilled workforce in the future. Mr Belton explained that CITB had already made changes to its management structure, becoming more focused on delivering training. He said: “Before I joined (CITB) I was told it was an organisation in need of change.”

The day concluded with the announcement of the winners of the AIS FPDC Best Practice Awards and a well earned networking reception.

A new strategy

“We’re now one bigger, better and stronger association thanks to the merger of AIS and FPDC, but above all we need to make sure we help our members to be more successful,” said David Frise, AIS FPDC chief executive.

Fit-out and finishes contractors are emerging from one of the deepest recessions and members are now facing the growing pains of recovery and, as Mr Frise outlined, there are three challenges which are at the centre of AIS FPDC’s strategy: skills, technical support and improving member services.

Mr Frise said: “There are too many unqualified tradesmen out there so skills is a top priority for us and we’ve made a commitment to ensure that by 2020 all tradesmen working in the sector will be qualified to at least NVQ level 2.”

“Increasing demand for skilled staff is the driver for change. And to deliver greater skills AIS FPDC wants to be in more control of the levy, which we support, but we want a fairer proportion to come back into the sector.

“Technical standards are also important. We want to own the technical space (in our sector) so that if anyone has a query about fit-out and finishes they come to us.”

Thirdly AIS FPDC is planning to expand advice and support to members to offer independent professional advice on a wider scale. Mr Frise revealed that the association is going to develop a web-based knowledge portal to give members access to the best information to help run their businesses. This could include commercial, employment and technical information and a range of best practice examples.

A new name for AIS FPDC


AIS FPDC is not the snappiest name in world so the association is planning to adopt a new name and a new look. David Frise said: We’ll be rebranding in the New Year and will be coming to members to ask them for their views.

Pipeline planning for skills growth

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Construction Group Training Association (CGTA) is planning to set up a dedicated drylining cluster group for specialist contractors based in the North West. The Chamber is working with employers and colleges to make sure that the skills SMEs need are the ones that colleges and training providers are producing.

Christian Spence said: “We know there’s £3.5 billion of new work coming forward in the next five years in Greater Manchester. We know you need 65,000 people on sites next year. This is a rise of 20 per cent over 12 months.

“We broke down trade by trade what the industry needs. This shows the resource required to handle the work that is going to take place.

“What we’ve found is that only one third of current qualifications come with any site experience and employers have told us that they need new recruits from college to have site experience. And there are no formal drylining qualifications available in Greater Manchester.”

Initially CGTA handled shared apprenticeship schemes but it has grown to act as a catalyst that has brought training providers and employers closer together and channel new funding into filling the skills gap.

Jocelyne Underwood, the construction sector lead at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The CGTA includes more than 20 contractors who are representative of the supply chain and local authorities from around Greater Manchester. We’ve developed a series of cluster groups from different trades, including interior fit-out.”

CGTA obtained funding and has already set up an accredited training programme for formwork and steel fixers, the first outside London. More initiatives are planned for other trades including drylining for the interiors sector.

To register interest and find out more about the drylining cluster group of employers in Greater Manchester go to an online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/2GD72ZM

BIM usage increases

An AIS FPDC BIM4FitOut survey has learnt that the use of BIM has increased by 33 per cent during the last 12 months and that another third of respondents surveyed said that they plan to begin implementing BIM during the next 12 months.

AIS FPDC has teamed up with 3D Repro in an initiative designed to help specialist contractors gain access to innovative digital products, processes and services that include a user-friendly BIM-linked visualisation tool for contractors to engage with clients and tender at no cost.

Championing specialist contractors

Suzannah Nichol, the chief executive of the National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC), is championing the role of specialist contractors on behalf of 7,000 companies.

A top priority is fighting for fair payment. While the Supply Chain Payment Charter is a positive step the industry needs to do more to eradicate poor practice. Ms Nichol outlined five steps to secure fair payment. First insist on 30 day payments; agree clear payment terms; say no to cash retentions; make sure your invoicing information is correct; and finally, don’t accept late payment.

NSCC is also championing the 2025 Construction Strategy which has sought to bring construction businesses and the government closer together. It calls for improved efficiency, improved use of technology to drive productivity and demands for less duplication, such as PQQs.

CITB to reveal new structure

Adrian Belton, CITB chief executive, outlined four areas that CITB will focus on: “Funding and investment has been archaic and this is already changing and the method of collection has already been announced.

“Secondly, in terms of standards, there is a multiplicity of qualifications. We need to play a clearer role in standards across the industry and simplify arrangements.

“Thirdly we’re looking at how we deal with front line support. We have 700 staff in CITB who visit funders and career advisers around the country. I’m concerned that this is not the best use of their time. We are going to take a good hard look to make sure that our front line support is there to help the industry and not just push CITB services.

“Finally we’re looking at the curriculum and pathways into the construction industry. We must match the supply with the demand for skills. The nature of the skills gap does vary around the country. We’ll get all the interested parties involved: schools, colleges and employers.”

Tell CITB what you think

CITB chief executive Adrian Belton has asked AIS FPDC members to tell him what they think about CITB. Mr Belton has asked any specialist contractor to contact him direct with any experiences, good or bad, about CITB.

Email Mr Belton on adrian.belton@citb.co.uk