At the BMF’s first Civils and Drainage Forum in January, AWMS Managing Director Steve Durdant-Hollamby was invited to present on trends in the market. He addressed industry challenges, but also new opportunities. “Civils is getting sexy”, said Steve, with new technology, innovation and bespoke products driving the market forward. But his presentation ignited a much wider debate…
The Forum was remarkable not for the topics discussed (thought-provoking though they were), but rather for the palpable desire to make a difference. Chaired by Jewsons Civils Development Director Nick Boyle, the agenda focused on industry trends and included a formal introduction of the BMF and what it does for members. In reality, attendees discussed a whole host of topics including: Brexit, digitalisation, increased demand for on-site product solutions, skills shortage, specification, Carillion’s downfall and its impact, and improving the image of construction.
The top four takeaways were:
- New opportunities: Builders’ merchants are bucking overall construction trends with steady sales growth up to the end of 2017. However, for civils and drainage, the market is down by approximately 3%. Addressing the challenge, Steve highlighted three key areas: developing more of the solution in products to combat the skills shortage; effective use of technology to add value with bespoke solutions; and thinking more aesthetically when developing products. Civil drainage doesn’t have to be ugly and grey!
- Empty infrastructure promises: The Government has promised £500bn infrastructure investment over the next 10 years, but the most the UK has ever delivered in a single year previously is £20bn. Major infrastructure promises much, but is it just pie in the sky? Suppliers and merchants are very busy providing quotes for projects, but companies would do well to be wary of relying too heavily on projects that could take years to get off the ground. Instead, the industry needs to focus on building relationships with policy-makers so that realistic and detailed infrastructure plans can be developed.
- Carillion fall-out: it may be months before we see the impact of the collapse of the construction giant on the merchant sector, when the sub-contractors affected may begin to struggle to pay their bills. Several Forum members remarked that this crisis will likely impact credit terms in the immediate future.
- Skills shortage: our industry is facing a long-term shortage in skilled labour that will significantly impact our ability – manufacturers and merchants – to deliver on construction projects. A straw poll of members at the meeting revealed that most are currently recruiting, highlighting that the sector has employment and career opportunities to offer. The BMF is doing its part by offering a well-organised apprenticeship scheme; training and education courses open to all ages. It is also publicising the opportunities in the merchant sector to Carillion employees who have lost their jobs. But we all need to do our bit to raise the profile and image of construction and highlight the many career opportunities in our sector.
There was a real drive in the Forum to create lasting solutions to some of these issues. The next will take place in the form of a workshop, where issues such as the skills shortage and digitalisation will be discussed in detail with the aim of developing an action plan to address them. The workshop will take place in May (date to be confirmed) and members interested in attending should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02476 854980.