Words from the IACDS President

Published 1/7, 2015 at 15:40

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is one of the greatest ever engineers to hail from the UK.
In fact, he can still be regarded as one of the world’s finest ever minds – a giant of engineering who, in the nineteenth century, came up with ground-breaking designs and construction projects that were way ahead of their time. Why, you might ask, have I begun my second column as president by describing Brunel?

I was at an infrastructure conference in the UK recently and heard a great speech by Sir John Armit, a well-known advocated of skills, centred round the construction industry. The issues he was addressing were ones we face in the UK – but from my dealings with many of you down the years, I know that you will agree that they are global and not solely matters for one country.

He said Brunel would be turning in his grave if he saw the way the industry is working today. We had the pleasure of working on one of Brunel’s viaducts a couple of years ago and the innovation and ingenuity that had gone into it was mind-blowing. Where is that innovation coming from today?

Has construction become a conservative industry that insists on doing things the way they’ve always been done?

Perhaps we are being hard on ourselves but I see regularly how companies are working against one another rather than in collaboration.

The supply chain is absolutely vital in every industry but in construction every link in the chain is crucial to the other and rather than looking to ‘get one over each other’ we should all be working as one. Rather than working in silos, every area of construction and design should be operating together to get the best possible outcome on each job.

When it comes to payment, seeing the money filter down through the chain in quick fashion has got to be better for everyone. The more security that companies feel at every stage in the chain, the better it has to be for all of the companies involved – not least the client.

This might require a step change in attitudes from top to bottom but, in my opinion, it would bring benefits to the whole industry.

Another issue we have in the UK right now is around skills and my opinion is that the devaluing of apprenticeships over many years has meant few younger people have come into construction in the past decade.

There is a drive now from the Government to put apprenticeships back on a pedestal and make them attractive to younger people and to encourage companies to take more apprentices on.

I applaud that and I only hope that it can make a difference over the next few years to help solve our skills crisis in the UK.

I look at countries like Sweden, Germany, Japan and Austria and how they have placed great emphasis on apprenticeships down the years and, from my perspective, that means that they haven’t got the skills issue that we and some other countries have today.

This has to be a lesson that we learn for the future. I would love to hear from colleagues around the world on this because I really do want to know what’s effecting the industry around the globe and not just in the UK or Europe.

I think most of us who suffered the effects of the global recession feel that the worst of the downturn is over and that there are opportunities out there that were not there just a couple of years ago.

But I feel that this means it’s also a good time to get our industry in shape for the new challenges ahead and to set the bar even higher for each other globally.

That’s what Brunel did over 150 years ago and that’s something we can all draw inspiration from. Be sure to show the world that this level of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking still exists by entering the IACDS Diamond Awards that will be held at Bauma 2016. And we can show Brunel and the world what our fantastic industry is still capable of.

Drop me a line and let me know any issues you are having as I want to use my time as president and this column to address what’s happening in our industry across the world.

I’m at Juliewhite@d-drill.co.uk

Julie White, President of IACDS

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