Construction quality… decades behind?

Over the past 2 years, the team at Shirley Parsons has seen a huge demand for quality professionals in the construction & civil engineering sector. Compared to other industries, there seems to be a lot of confusion around what quality actually is and how it should be prioritised. It’s common place to see quality managers reporting to health & safety and environmental directors or hiring managers telling me they don’t really know what quality is. 

I recently met a head of quality for a major construction project whose quality career originated in the automotive sector. During our discussion he said “Decades ago when you bought a car, you would check under the bonnet, kick the tyres and inspect it for anything untoward before you drove it out of the showroom. All because there was a good chance something could be wrong with it.”

This statement made me recall an experience I had just over a year ago when I purchased a new car. I went into the dealership; chose the car I wanted and picked it up the following month. During this process, I never thought to check if anything was wrong with it. Even better, my assumption was correct and I’ve had no problems with the vehicle so far. Most of us would not expect anything less.

Automotive sector versus the construction sector

Conversely, at the same time I bought my car, my best friend bought his first house. After a month or two of settling in, I went to check out his brand new property. When he opened the door, he was holding a very long snag list. There were 45 issues raised on day 1 and after 28 days, another 27 had been found. I was staggered and couldn’t understand how a brand new home could have so many problems? But this was not an exception; it appeared to be the norm, with the new residents of the area comparing their snag lists. I couldn’t believe it.

We’ve been building houses throughout the world for nearly 10,000 years and cars for less than 120 years (The Model T Ford went in to mass production in 1908), so how can there be such a gap in the quality of the work? I do, however, believe there is a stark difference between the working environment of a car manufacturing plant and major projects like Crossrail, Hinkley Point C and Thames Tideway. 

According to the Get It Right Initiative’s (GIRI) report, “Construction errors cost the UK industry billions every single year. The annual spend due to error is estimated to be around 7 times the total annual profit of the UK Construction Industry.

When unrecorded process waste, latent defects and indirect costs are included, the situation gets much worse, with estimates of total costs from errors ranging between 10% and 25% of project cost or between £10–25Bn per annum across the sector.”

I attended the GIRI breakfast launch last week and unsurprisingly quality as an issue was mentioned several times. Leadership, culture and user-unfriendly tools were mentioned and it was hard to disagree with the statements that were made at the event. 

Solving the construction sectors quality issue

Personally, I think this is a fantastic opportunity for the construction industry. If we can significantly improve quality within this amazing sector in a 5-10 year period, instead of decades, would there not be an array of best practice to share with other industries? If this was achieved, could construction be the benchmark for quality and create new, more innovative ways of working?

I really do hope so because quality has a massive part to play in constructions’ £25Bn problem.

Author: Jonny Montgomery ( is the Divisional Lead for Quality at Shirley Parsons.

Shirley Parsons ( are global leaders in HSEQ recruitment, search and staffing services. We are an ever-growing global HSEQ talent network built on long-term relationships, industry knowledge, and geographic expansion. Visit  for more information.


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