What Is Happening in the Construction Industry?
It has been on my mind for a while to add another voice and platform to the SMEs within the Construction Industry. The people speaking out about relevant issues within the industry are starting to merge and add weight to the plight of many genuine business owners. I have come across groups and individuals on Social Media who are making a stand on various important issues we need to be aware of. I have also been in touch with many people who have credibility within Construction. They run very good businesses and are deeply concerned about issues that must be addressed. So, with this in mind, I have started to interview people across the Construction sector. PLEASE comment and add your voice to this cause. Bearing in mind that we are facing growing levels of poor mental health, stress and financial strain it is necessary to become pro-active.
Thank you for taking part in this new interview initiative for the UK Construction Community. Our aim is to champion the smaller and less known Construction Consultant and Contractor. We welcome constructive comments and recommendations from colleagues and the wider construction community. Our aim would be to develop this conversation into a forum and help small construction companies grow in their sphere of influence.
CMM: Thank you for agreeing to join us today Rob. It is much appreciated. Please tell us a little about yourself and your business.
ROB: I started out as an apprentice in the aircraft industry working primarily on Concorde flight test and development at Fairford. The work was great, but the working environment was mind crushing. I left to join a major construction company’s Land Surveying Department and, moving about as one does in construction, worked as Section Engineer Roads and Structures Engineer. I then joined a small expanding company in the fencing world to take on their growing work with the leading Germany manufacturer Elkosta including many automated gates, barriers and turnstiles. I worked with all the utilities, anything nuclear, all the leading supermarkets, major manufacturers and in partnership with many leading fencing companies all over the UK. Moving on I was Project Manager for many projects around the Royal Buildings & Downing Street too. Recently over the last 12 years, I have been working with our own company Fensec Ltd providing technical solutions in our field of fencing, gates, and automation. In amongst all this, I have been very involved at various times with our industry body in training, trade associations, standards & small business health and safety regulations with the FSB.
CMM: Rob, I know from your comments on Social Media that you obviously feel strongly about certain issues like non or delayed payment of sub-contractors. What do you think it will take to change this culture within our industry?
ROB: Given my long fight trying to change the industry to a more professional and trustworthy one, it is difficult to see what will change the adversarial nature of our industry. I spent many years working at a high level on many schemes with government and major supermarkets to change this, including the MOD, Egan & Latham. Every time we get somewhere it strikes me the majors see this as a weakness to be exploited and the trust collapses, and no one gets paid. I think given the time spent by everyone the only way is legislation and regulation. Being nice isn’t working.
CMM: A big question but what do you see happening over the next few years within our industry. In particular, the future of Sub-Contractors and their ability to procure new work?
ROB: Unfortunately, I don’t see any moves to improve our lot, which is depressing & severely limiting. All I see is an expansion of the aggressive QSs into more formally trustworthy open companies with the promise of producing desperately needed cash. Of course, this is sub-contractors & suppliers’ cash that should be paid for the materials & work done. There are no signs that our government understands or wants to understand the issue properly or the effects on safety, quality & value for money, or ultimately the UK economy. Having said that the opportunities to procure new work are very good, providing you are fully aware of the risks & have sufficient funds to absorb the financial shocks or very late or non-payment.
CMM: We read a lot in the news about apprenticeships in Construction. What advice would you give a young person who wanted to start their own construction business?
ROB: It’s a great industry, probably the only one where you will drive around after a few years & be proud of all the work you have done which will be there for very many years. It is an industry where your knowledge and experience is constantly stretched to provide new solutions to unique problems and challenges. But it is advisable to develop your own customer base staying well clear of the major contractors who are constantly looking to replace their cash deficit and fund themselves to go forward. Don’t become a bank for the big boys and don’t borrow to fund them. And, don’t get taken in by the extremely nice people at the main contractors meeting, it is only a very thin veneer which will rapidly disappear once you set foot on site to do your work. Once you are financially committed.
CMM: Do you have any thoughts about the present ‘culture’ of our Industry? And what can be done to improve it?
ROB: The culture is toxic and very stress-inducing. We’ve just had the #mentalhealth #construction thing which is very hypocritical and illustrates perfectly the attitude and massive ignorance of the major contractors who totally ignore the extreme stress they cause every day by messing with people’s payments. It’s maddening, just as the Considerate Contractor & all the other ‘local’ initiatives are. The culture is self-defeating, contagious and only goes around in circles, which also allows competitors to enter the UK market easily. They risk the whole industry.
After some decades in trying to help change the construction industry, I can only suggest legislating to break up the existing system, protect the payments, re-train the QSs to be open and constructive in their relationships with sub-contractors and suppliers, so they look for longer-term relationships.
CMM: On a lighter note Rob. What do you do in your spare time? I know running a business can be very demanding and stressful?
ROB: We have a caravan on a permanent site looking over Seaton, the sea and the Axe Valley, a small yacht on the River Exe, plus a fair bit of walking too. So, when the weather is settled, we sail and fish off the Exe, have a trip to Brixham, Dartmouth or Lyme Regis. If not, then staying at the caravans relaxing, walking and socialising. Oh, and I am involved with the local Community Land Trust busy building houses for the local people too.
CMM: Rob, thank you for taking the time to share honestly with us about the need for real change within our industry. I hope we can find a route through these problems and build trust within our culture.
We will be adding new interviews every couple of weeks but we would like you to participate in this process with us. If you would like to be interviewed please send your NAME, COMPANY NAME, POSITION and TYPE of Construction work by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, don’t forget to PLEASE add your comments in the COMMENT field. Thanks for your support.
See you soon.