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Go overseas, get the best staff and work together, diners told

CIVIL ENGINEERS at the Midlands Association annual dinner in Birmingham were urged to tackle three major failings in the construction industry before it is too late.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Midlands region chairman Brian Woods-Scawen told the sell-out audience that creating a bigger international dimension, winning the war for talent and revolutionising the supply chain within the industry are the three biggest priorities. He warned that speed is of the essence: 'Tomorrow may be too late, ' he said.

Woods-Scawen started by urging companies to get bigger and to get international: 'For too long, ' he explained, 'the cost of transporting heavy materials has insulated you from overseas competition.' But no longer.

'Globalisation is affecting you too. The benefits of global spread - in purchasing efficiencies, investment in new technologies, development opportunities for people - are making their mark.

'You have a responsibility to build world-class businesses, ' he said. 'For many of you, this will involve mergers, acquisitions and international spread at a pace never seen before.

'The question I would put to you is this - are you up to the challenge? Because if you aren't, your businesses won't be here in the years ahead, ' he said.

Woods-Scawen then addressed the big issue of recruitment and retention.

'There is a real war going on out there for talent, ' he said.

'And the cost of the best people is going up fast. Young people in particular are fully aware that lifelong employment with one organisation is no longer on offer.'

Woods-Scrawen suggested that if the industry is to win the war for talent it needs to ask itself two key questions. First, is your industry attractive to the best young people as they assess opportunities in this new world?

'As an outsider I don't see many of the best people wanting to be consultants or construction professionals, ' he said.

Secondly, he asked, do they see the industry offering them the skills and experience which they know they'll need to compete in an uncertain workplace?

'If I'm right that there's more to do to make the construction industry the industry of choice for the best young people. Who is taking this agenda forward?' he asked.

'What is your strategy for winning the war for talent against the competing demands of management consulting, financial services or the law?'

His final issue then drove at the heart of the industry, attacking developments in partnering and best value: 'When I look at your industry, I still see many elements of the old world. There still isn't the sense of partnership, of joint efforts to eliminate waste and increase value.

'I still see different parties fighting among themselves, whether in tenders, project management or the settlement of variations and claims, ' he said.

Woods-Scawen accepted that initiatives like the Egan Report are beginning to make an impact but urged industry to act faster.

'Progress needs to be much faster or again we'll be overtaken by international competition, ' he said.

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