CECA Wales Conference

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Wales hosted its joint annual conference last week with the Association of Consulting Engineers (ACE) Wales and the County Surveyors Society (CSS) Cymru.

The Conference is an important part of the calendar for all three organisations and it’s always a great opportunity for public and private sectors (and clients, consultants and contractors) to get together to debate the challenges we all face across the sector and, ideally, to work through solutions! The theme for the conference was “Delivering Greater Value, Together” which has been the same theme for the second year running. It just shows how important the theme is but also how difficult it’s proving to tackle!

The conference kicked off with a keynote speech from Cllr Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council and deputy leader of the WLGA, setting out, in stark terms, the challenges facing Welsh local authorities but also some of the opportunities. Diminishing budgets and the fight across council departments for a bigger share of these budgets was unsurprisingly a key message! Collaboration between public and private sectors was an underlying theme to his speech and, whilst warm words are fine, it’s important that all across the sector turn those words into actions if we’re serious about delivering greater value for ever diminishing budgets.

To warm up delegates to the task ahead presentations followed from three industry leaders on the three key challenges that we feel are holding us back : people and skills, carbon and how we address risk.

First up was Julia Stevens of CITB Cymru who set out the challenges of attracting more people to the sector and better equipping those in the sector. Statistics reflecting perceptions of the industry were pretty startling with a fairly low 30% of people thinking construction is for someone like them, only 6% of those already in the industry having considered construction as a career before entering their current role and an abysmally low 2% who considered construction to be their preferred industry – with most industries being considered more attractive. That’s an incredibly challenging background to our efforts to attract more people. And yet a high proportion of people already in the industry think it’s a great industry to be in! Something drastic is needed to change these perceptions!

Cameron Panter of the UK Cabinet Office followed Julia with a presentation on the Construction Playbook and specifically on the way it expects the industry to consider risk. No surprises that allocating risk on the basis of who is best placed to manage it was the key message. But how many can say that they’re working on projects where this actually happens?! If this doesn’t change though, our ability to work better together is severely diminished and sending out tenders with onerous terms and conditions against unrealistic budgets is unlikely to produce great outcomes!

The third presenter was Mark Emmett of National Highways (England) who set out their journey to introduce PAS2080 and how they intend to manage carbon. Lots of takeaways from this but one that stuck with many delegates was “the greatest ability to influence whole life carbon reduction is at the “need” stage”. From a contractors perspective, given that most projects exclude contractors from that stage, surely there’s a message there that if we are to tackle this challenge we need to re-look at how and when supply chains are procured and bring them in to the process earlier? Sadly this isn’t a new message!

Delegates then broke into 3 workshop groups facilitated by the 3 chairs to consider these challenges, propose solutions and develop a plan of who takes these forward and by when. With opportunities to do this “face to face” across public and private sectors and involving clients, contractors and consultant fairly rare these days (probably was pre-Covid too!) it was encouraging to see such intelligent and passionate debate across the 3 workshops with one delegate commenting “we need to be doing this far more often” given how these challenges impact us all.

We’ll now let the dust settle a little before we share our post-Conference report with the industry along with a “call to action” across the sector to address these challenges. And if any of you out there would like to support the “call to action” by inputting to this work over the next few months please let me know at ed.evans@cecawales.co.uk