This week Tim Heywood flew to Malaysia at the start of a year's secondment to a project management company in Kuala Lumpur. He swaps his job as assistant manager at Mace for a steep learning curve with his Malaysian counterparts at Baharuddin Ali & Low.
Heywood's aim is to find out how Malaysian engineers operate and to compare the application of project management skills in the two countries.
His year away is being sponsored by the Department of Trade & Industry as part of its International Secondments service. The scheme, which has been going for some 18 months, builds on a previous DTI initiative - Engineers to Japan. As the name suggests, this initiative sent engineers from the UK to work with Japanese companies to swap skills and build contacts.
However, IS has a much wider scope. Secondees can be from any background and can apply to go to any country. If they do not have appropriate contacts, the DTI can even put them in touch with prospective hosts.
Heywood, who studied construction management at what was Leeds Polytechnic and has worked at Mace for almost five years, heard about the scheme from a colleague at work.
First step was to submit a paper to management consultant Coopers & Lybrand, which co-ordinates the scheme for the DTI. 'I had to put together a work schedule on a month by month basis for the whole period of the secondment,' says Heywood. Participants can go overseas for as little as three months, but Heywood decided that to get properly acquainted with the construction industry he would need a full year.
A presentation to the IS interview panel last October secured an immediate decision, and Heywood began planning his departure. The scheme also offers the opportunity for language training. Heywood will start this when he arrives in Malaysia. Although he does not expect to become fluent, it would be nice 'to learn a few words', he says.
'Basically I'm going to take my procedures manual with me, and sit down with my counterparts at BAL to look at their procedures manual, and see if there is any crossover in the way we do things,' Heywood says.
Project management is not as common in Malaysia as it is in the UK, and BAL sees it as being the next big thing for the country's construction industry. They are keen to learn as much as possible so that they will have an advantage over their competitors.
Heywood expects to be working on a variety of projects. BAL employs some 350 staff and has a very extensive client list. Its current projects include a new building for Citibank and a commercial project for a major developer. And the recent financial crisis has not really affected them, he adds, as BAL is not dependent on just one sector.