'This is not a criticism, ' states Milos Svarc, managing director of independent project management company Fideco.
'It's a fact: After 10 years of economic isolation the younger generation of civil engineers has no experience of working on major projects.' Serbia's engineers are eager to work and can be mobilised swiftly, 'but it is questionable whether they have the ability to tackle the work required'.
Svarc's view is echoed by Vladislav Ilic, director of independent consulting engineer InnoTech. Shrinking domestic and overseas markets mean that Serbian designers have been denied the opportunity to innovate and contractors have lost contact with leading international consultants and project managers.
'Good engineers could see there was nothing interesting likely to happen and left the industry, ' Ilic observes. 'People haven't done design work here because there has been nothing to design. Their skills are rusty.' Energoprojekt, one of Serbia's leviathan turnkey contractors, has lost a third of its staff in the last decade.
Serbia desperately needs to modernise its construction industry. Its designers are still respected internationally for the solid technical training delivered by Belgrade's School of Engineering. And in the preMilosevic era, Serbia's civil engineering firms were among the world's most active - Energoprojekt still ranks in the top 200 international contractors.
But designers need to catch up on technical advances, says Ilic. They must also embrace efficiency - there is little appreciation of structural economy or value engineering.
'People are not used to thinking about pounds and pence.'
Serbian design pays little attention to operation and maintenance either. According to Kovacevic, designs work, but seldom optimally, while overstructuring has normally been used as the trade off for a limited or non-existent maintenance regime.
Meanwhile, the nation's engineers are not used to equating time with money, says Svarc. Contractors must get to grips with project management, working to time and budget.
Similarly, Serbian clients need to start setting performance targets and demanding compliance.
State owned Serbian construction firms are set up for turnkey project delivery, combining design, finance and contracting activities. They will have to be split up if privatisation is to take place, making for far more responsive businesses.
The injection of Western capital and management expertise is eagerly anticipated by many.
Others are looking to learn from Western firms through partnerships and joint ventures.
Serbian companies have more than enough muscle to take on work, but want guidance, says Kovacevic.
The gain for western firms of working with Serbian companies is in their back-tofront knowledge of the market.
It will take time for the market and Serbian business culture to change, says Ilic. 'People here have become very careful about the quality of their investors and clients. Private sector engineers know who is solvent and, of those, who will pay.'
With 60% of Serbia's gross national product now based on the black market, informal, unofficial business networks are crucial to the success of any activity. Civil engineering is no exception.