Stay agile – adapt, and adapt now

Four of Beca’s senior leaders reflect on the year that’s been and what 2018 has in store for the civil contracting sector. Emma Fisk (Auckland), Andrew Paterson (Tauranga), Eric Whitfield (Wellington) and Richard Jenkins (Christchurch), Beca.

How would you sum up the year that has been?

Emma Fisk is a technical director of civil engineering who focuses on the delivery of efficient design solutions on complex multidisciplinary projects.

Andrew Paterson manages the Beca infrastructure team in Tauranga and, for the past 17 years, has been involved in construction observation management.

Eric Whitfield is Transport and Infrastructure’s commercial manager – leading the operational and strategic business planning processes.

Richard Jenkins has over 20 years’ experience in civil engineering and leads Beca’s South Island infrastructure team.

Emma: Everyone in the sector has been under pressure with numerous big projects starting or continuing. For some, it’s meant they’ve needed additional resources which itself has created a challenge with a limited pool of good people available.

The 2017 year also saw overseas construction companies settling in, making work more competitive for local contractors and introducing new ways of doing things.

Andrew: Two cyclones passed through the Bay of Plenty in 2017, generating a lot of remedial work and challenging the programme of various roading contracts. However, the industry remained competitive with large projects in the region generating interest from outside; prompting strategic thinking around rates and resourcing.

Eric: Technology is shaking up how things are designed and constructed eg, contractors are building from digital models, forcing many to adapt. There were also changes within some of the big contractors (ie, mergers), which could challenge competitors and procurement methods in 2018.

Richard: The South Island experienced more investment in infrastructure spend, especially in central Otago due to growth in residential and commercial development, and in tourism. Many consultants and contractors were committed to rebuilding Kaikoura. And while commercial developments in Christchurch are starting to settle down and affecting some workloads, councils are still spending and providing more opportunities than many can service.

How has health and safety – particularly psychological wellbeing – become increasingly more important?

Emma: Up until now we never really talked about fatigue, despite more people experiencing it as a result of the pressures the industry is facing. But the industry no longer thinks like that.

Over the past year I’ve seen a promising shift in contractor and consultant duty of care to people.

Andrew: Health and safety has gone up a level! Everyone has become extremely proactive, especially Tier 1 contractors, which is having a positive effect on the rest of the industry.

Eric: People are thinking more about health and safety, and also psychological wellbeing. Contractors are investing in innovative methods to manage safety and risk, like mobile apps.

Richard: Everyone is starting to understand the impact work has on people’s lives, especially the effect prolonged work pressures have on mental wellbeing. We’re all ensuring we’re taking care of our most precious resource.

The big elephant in the room was the introduction of the new government and what changes it will bring. All indicated some element of uncertainty, but were positive about the forward workload and the opportunities in 2018.

Emma: We know we’re going to be doing more multimodal projects and refocusing on different areas eg, light rail. In terms of resourcing, I think we’ll start to see a bit more flexibility, but not so much that the bottom drops away as other projects will start up. The key for 2018 will be to stay agile in where the sector goes looking for partners and skills.

Andrew: This year (2018) will probably get more competitive for those in the Bay of Plenty. Tauranga continues to grow, generating lots of development work but it’s not clear what work will progress and how much there will be.

While there are still some big projects on the horizon, the increased interest from those outside the region will continue to make it difficult for local contractors to win work.

Eric: Infrastructure is still a big item for the new government. They highlighted a focus on regional development which is likely to create opportunities for players not in our big centres.

Light rail is on the table for Auckland; we may see some development work on this and contractors thinking strategically about how to do projects they haven’t done before.

Richard: For those down south, I expect our workload and investment in regional projects will continue – we still need to finish rebuilding Christchurch and Kaikoura. The new government brings both risk and opportunity, particularly around sustainability policies where it is unknown what impact their changes will have on projects already underway.

With a new government and rapid changes in technology, the general consensus is that we need to be doing more to build a more resilient future. The results of a Beca poll undertaken at Infrastructure New Zealand’s Building Nations Symposium in October revealed an appetite for change.

Emma: Standardisation of design is becoming increasingly important. Technology will evolve how we approach projects and keep people safe – we need to continue to adapt.

Eric: There will be ongoing challenges around sustainability and environmental impact, and we need take action now and think about how these changes could affect construction.

Andrew: Ensuring engagement with clients will be key, as will be retaining good resources. Maintaining continuity of work and keeping people engaged, goes hand-in-hand with building a resilient future.

Richard: The worst thing we can do is stand still. We need to adapt to the market and to people demands.

To build a resilient future, the biggest leap should be around how we care for our people and what ‘care’ means to them.

This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives 2018.

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