At a time when the industry is crossing its fingers and hoping to be on the up curve out of the recession, many are still struggling to have faith that good times lay ahead.
Spirits were undoubtedly high as celebrations roared on at last week’s Ground Engineering Awards 2011. But beneath the hubbub the geotechnical specialists on the frontline spoke of the latest challenges.
First is the issue of major projects. The coalition government has no doubt offered a decent amount of support to infrastructure schemes that not only alleviate national struggles but also elevate themselves to a position of economic boosting.
The big ticket items including Crossrail, the London 2012 Olympics, the second Tyne Crossing and Lee Tunnel (part of the Tideway Improvements) were welcomed with open arms by the industry at large, having been discussed and hoped for in some cases for decades.
But in the geotechnical world the issue is now that the specialist work that sees great piling rigs and clever soil cleaning plant crop up on the major projects has nearly now dried up and now there is little hope for major projects benefitting geotechnics in the near future.
One source at a major geotechnical firm says that while his firm is proud of its achievements to date there is real concern that nothing will come in from major projects beyond next year.
Adding to the concern is that major schemes such as the mega-sewer Thames Tunnel and High Speed Two are far from approved and way off start of construction.
And the difficulties do not only lie in the public funded schemes. Another source at a well-know geotechnical contractor said that while it is grateful to see the beginnings of a revival in the commercial sector, there is now unprecedented competition for work.
Added to which, firms are still having to dig deep to stay in the game. Not only is it important to keep investing resource in key tenders but the firms are desperately
trying to hold on to their already slimmed down teams of skilled engineers in the hope that they will win big and have the capability to deliver.
While everyone hopes that things really are looking up, the specialist industries are hoping that a little more certainty will start to come through soon.