I’m taking a punt this week. I’m writing this an hour before judging gets underway for NCE’s Graduate of the Year Awards. And my punt is that all six finalists are going to be absolutely fantastic: technically astute; technologically aware; globally focused and truly inspirational.
It’s not a wild punt; we have shortlisted them from an entry pool of more than 100. And it is absolutely, genuinely true that not one of those 100-plus entries were anything less than good.
The dozen or so we long-listed looked, on paper, to be excellent. And the six that made it to meet our judges looked world class. Regardless of who we pick as winner, all six will be leaders in the future, without any shadow of doubt.
Where there is doubt is who and what they will be leading. Right now, all six are working for consultants. It’s unusual, but not unprecedented for all our finalists to have chosen to start their career in consultancy.
But is that where they will stay? Is consultancy going to be the place for the best and sharpest minds of our industry? There is a strong groundswell of opinion that suggests it is not.
That groundswell is being led by none other the ICE’s new President, Sir John Armitt - the kind of man who we should listen to when he speaks. He spoke this week, using his presidential address to question the structure of our industry.
“Can you name another industry that separates design from manufacture?” he asked his audience, before setting out his long-term belief that in-house design teams within contracting organisations yield better designs. This was something he tested personally - with great success - on the Second Severn Crossing, a project on which he worked when at John Laing.
He explained, that he specifically sought out a French contractor to JV with John Laing because he believed the European model of contractors with in-house design was the way to get better design. So should our graduates be looking to work for major contractors if leadership careers are what they want?
Possibly. But possibly they need go further away from the norm. Because Armitt is not alone in seeing a seismic shift coming for the industry.
Constructing Excellence is arguing that those major contractors themselves are in for a big shock in the next five to 10 years as traditional tier 2 suppliers of the technology and the asset maintenance move to centre stage. Our current obsession with the shortest phase of an asset’s life (design and construction) is not going to last much longer, it argues. When we genuinely see the value in starting with the whole life outcome and working back from there we will see a very different industry with decisions made by very different companies.
So where will our graduates be in 10 years time? What will they be leading? The smart money says it will be a very different bunch of people in very different looking firms.
Exciting, isn’t it?