The new chief executive at FIS , Iain McIlwee, takes a look forward and highlights some of the challenges facing the sector. 

It is an exciting time to be joining the Finishes and Interiors Sector. FIS is emerging from a time of intense change under David Frise’s stewardship with clear identity, a great team and a strong sense of community.

From the outside, I have to say the FIS team does its members justice. I have worked closely and well with David over the years, but I was really encouraged by the many comments I got from colleagues across the construction sector wishing me well in my new role and advising me that “you have inherited a cracking team there”. I am already finding this out for myself and looking forward to adding my weight, building on this, and helping FIS grow into the brand and the brand to grow.

There is also growing recognition that the sector is pivotal in construction. We are the finishes and interiors sector, we are the team that turns structures into homes, hospitals, shops, learning environments, entertainment venues, etc. We are the team that brings buildings to life and restores them to former glory. This is one of the most significant parts of the construction sector, and our issues and challenges need to be understood – our contribution to building it better can be huge, but our voice needs to be heard.

My journey/love affair with the construction sector began some 23 years ago when I arrived fresh faced and full of hope at a scaffolding yard in Hanwell. Construction is an amazing industry, but the inefficiencies, adversarial culture and contractual minefield have ever been a frustration. We have been driven by value engineering, fallen into siloes and pinned into corners, mitigating individual risk rather than managing project risk. My hope is we are at a tipping point.

The words of Mark Farmer, Modernise or Die, ring in my ear, but the Grenfell tragedy is forever etched on my mind. We didn’t do enough; we didn’t drive home the lessons of Lakanal; we hoped for the best and experienced the worst.

As a result, trust in construction is at an all-time low and we can expect a more tightly controlled environment. The Joint Competency Authority proposed in the Hackitt Review is likely to be realised and with it there will be a clearer focus on who is responsible for what. Construction will no longer be able to chuck risk around like a hot potato, often to be picked up and managed by the smallest of companies, it will need to be owned and managed at every stage. This means tighter specifications, more emphasis on third party accreditation and more attention to detail.

The Digital Revolution is heading our way in a tidal wave of data management. The focus will be on clarity of and access to information, controlling our workflows and recording activity. Products will be eventually digitally tagged, and test information, where applicable, will be a scan on a phone away and all activity relating to installation and maintenance recorded and monitored. It has been a long time coming, but coming it is and we need to be ready. If we do it right this tagging will start in the factory and carry us through to demolition.

Competency will be the new watchword and the CSCS card system will be central to this. We are seeing cards being withdrawn and tighter control already. This intense focus on skills and competency will continue and may indeed be compounded by migration issues linked to Brexit. We need to harness the power of the reformed CITB to support us in meeting this challenge. We also need to engage more effectively with the FE colleges ensuring that there is a focus on quality – when we invest in training, the output is work-ready people.

So, on this dawn of a new era for construction, FIS stands ready to help you to seize the day. The 3 Ps strategy – Product, Process, People – is fundamental to success: the right product, skilled and competent people and a robust process. FIS can help companies evolve to a new way of working, and accredit and prepare companies for accreditation. It is also a ready-made platform to collaborate, bringing to the fore challenges and opportunities and both solving them and attacking them as a community.

The work on skills is already well advanced following significant and brave investment from the Board. The organisation already brings together suppliers, installers, contractors and advisors in a community that shares some common values and recognises the need to do it better. It is these values that will ultimately ensure that the sector continues to grow and evolve as a powerhouse within construction and I am very much relishing being on this exciting journey with you too.

Iain McIlwee

Chief executive
FIS: Finishes and Interiors Sector