Tomorrow’s World, Tomorrow’s Infrastructure

The construction sector stands on the edge of a fundamental shift in the way that future infrastructure is delivered. And yet, as with many other sectors of industry, it also faces negative pressures.

As an organisation representing Wales’ largest and smallest civil engineering contractors we sense a strong appetite for change but companies struggle to understand what the future direction will mean for their businesses, and how they can most effectively manage this change – especially when they still have to deal with the here and now (and dreadfully low margins combined with high risk contracts).

To help shape and influence our understanding of Tomorrow’s World, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association is developing a technology focused industry routemap. If we get this right, this evidence based document will drive substantial Welsh, UK and local government support for all those that are involved in the delivery of infrastructure across Wales and the UK.

As part of our research, we’ve engaged with CECA Wales members, as part of a broader engagement across the UK, to test and challenge some of our emerging findings, to ensure that together we safeguard the future of our industry for the long term – and that we deliver infrastructure which is fit for the 21st century.

At our event in early October we started with some short taster sessions from industry leaders in modern methods of construction, digital engineering and automated technology and then opened out the debate amongst members, clients and senior decision makers across the sector in Wales, by focusing on 3 specific questions :

  1. Which business models are likely to be most successful in the future and what are the challenges in adopting these models?
  2. Which future technologies are likely to have the greatest impact on our sector and how can the industry be supported to adopt these?
  3. Based on the first two questions what steps should be taken, collaboratively, by the industry to secure the future skills, including new recruitment and retraining of the existing workforce?

The debate on business models was particularly intense and there was widespread recognition that traditional lowest cost, high risk transfer and, ultimately, adversarial models continued to drag the industry down and unless we adopt more value based methods of engagement we’ll never fully embrace the opportunities for change. And if we don’t change, if we don’t modernise, then we die as Mark Farmer reported not so long ago. In terms of future technologies, as you would expect from a room full of engineers, there was huge enthusiasm to embrace these – albeit tempered by a seeming inability to move to a more collaborative business model which would allow for greater investment in R&D, greater sharing of good innovative practices and a greater focus on value rather than just price. Overall there was an acceptance that all involved in the process of construction – clients, consultants, contractors, suppliers – had to come together to make this work. But for how long have we spoken about this and then failed to achieve it apart from isolated examples!

This was a great opportunity to contribute to “Tomorrow’s World, Tomorrow’s Infrastructure” and ensure that our sector and the businesses involved in it help to shape the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. But we need to make some bold steps forward otherwise we will lose out to some of the “disruptors” who are out there eyeing how they can do construction far better!

Copies of the final report and routemap will be available to all CECA Wales members by the end of this year.

Ed Evans

Director, CECA Wales