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Civils firms switch track

With Interbuild 2000 fast approaching, exhibitors and visitors are busy planning their excursions to Birmingham's NEC. This week our special preview focuses on civils and pipelines. Civil engineers are thriving, but the mix of work they are carrying out i


Mike Casebourne

Chief executive

Institution of Civil Engineers

'CIVIL engineering is alive and well. Although there are not so many huge road, defence, ports and harbour-type projects going on there is still a hell of a lot of work involving civil engineering.

'The demand is such that it is creating a shortage of civil engineers, which is pushing up the salary scales. Rail, in particular, is a big area.

'There is, though, a lot more these days to the civil engineer's life than just building things. Civil engineers regard themselves as creators of the civilised environment and providers of solutions to the needs of the developing global population. We are promoting the training of professionals fit to perform on a world stage.

'This is important because far too many engineers in the profession have their noses down to the grindstone of their own jobs without seeing the bigger picture. There are too many civil engineers being overlooked for the top posts in industry because they are not developing themselves into the strategic managers and thinkers that the stakeholders in those organisations want to see in charge.

'The civil engineers who are able to turn their minds to a much broader set of skills are getting on really well.

'At the ICE, we do not just see ourselves as designers and constructors, but creators of solutions to the problems of the developing population.

'All civil engineers are working in a global market. Many are doing very well getting out and producing the complex infrastructure that is enabling wealth creation in all manner of developing countries.

'People coming into this profession have a tremendous range of opportunity that perhaps wasn't there before. People who take civil engineering courses these days won't just concentrate on design and construction but on overall management and strategic thinking. They will have very broad careers.'

The consultant

Richard Hankin

Southern region director

Maunsell Group

'THE IMPLEMENTATION of framework agreements and partnering is going to have a profound effect on consultancy businesses.

'A good example of the transformation that is now taking place can be gauged from looking at what has happened in the water sector. If, as an organisation you fail, as we did, to get one of the framework agreements with the water supply companies, then effectively a whole chunk of your market is shut down for five to seven years.

'Another area where Maunsell lost out was in the bid for civil engineering work in the BAA framework agreement. We came a credible second but that meant BAA as a client was blocked out for five years.

'When Maunsell gears up to go for the work again we will not have been active in the UK home market of airports for five years, which means our ability to compete overseas declines. People overseas have confidence if you are employed at home.

'The implication of this type of development is that the bigger consultants grow while the smaller operators shrink. The middle guys will really struggle because they are being precluded from great sectors of the market.

'There is going to be a polarisation in the prime contracting route, whereby you are either going to be part of the contractor's supply chain or outside, scurrying around for the bits. This is going to profoundly affect the way we do business and the internal operation of consultancies as well.

'In the past, we have always been a very secretive profession and in the UK rarely worked together in joint ventures, but now as mega-schemes come up, consultants are beginning to talk to each other about working together to combat the big guys like Atkins. These are significant changes and I think you will see the big guys getting bigger and the little guys becoming boutique-like. The middle guys are going to really struggle and eventually get together.

'We are having to diversify into areas like the specialist side of treatment plants and environmental issues. Long-term relationships are likely to be the order of the day so clients will come to one stage of the supply chain that can then supply a number of skills. We will be expected to have more of these skills available in house.'

The specialist

Mathew Anderson

Senior bridge engineer

Strainstall Engineering

'ONE OF the major changes of late has been the tailing-off of the highway sector and picking up of railway work. In the recent past this company has done a lot of work testing bridges for strength relating to the European Directives allowing 44-tonne trucks to travel on British roads.

'But the focus now has moved very much toward the rail side. We have done work for Railtrack on the Forth Road Bridge, providing a monitoring process relating to structural integrity. Strainstall has also provided upgrades on routes for higher line speeds. There is a lot of continuing interest and potential in the railway area.

'Strainstall has taken firm steps to ensure that it is an approved supplier for Railtrack, though it does not forget the highways area. We are also looking for international opportunities and believe China offers good prospects.'

The surveyor

Keith Blackwell

Executive director

Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors

'RAIL is now the massive area that our members are becoming very much involved in. Coupled with the rail boom is a change in procurement methods. There is a move away from the traditional set tenders to partnering, which in the main seems to be quite successful.

'As a result of the Latham initiative there seems to be a strong desire in the industry to move away from confrontation and the spurious claims that have dogged the industry for many years.

'I feel it is working because we are in a period where there is an abundance of work. In the past, once work got tight it became very adversarial in the industry and people would win work at cut-price levels, making up the margins by adversarial claims. At the moment that is not happening because, within the partnering projects, there is a will to make it work. The big test will come when there is a cutback in turnover.

'My main concern is the lack of integration still in the transport network. I am extremely disappointed at the lack of money announced by the Chancellor for transport and road works. It is a pittance, just a waste of time. I am concerned that the policy in terms of an integrated system has not changed since the previous government, and that worries me.'

The contractor

James Wheatley

Public relations officer


'THERE are serious changes going on within the business in what is called the 'total life of asset support'. It is not a case of narrowing ourselves down or providing civil engineering here and construction elsewhere but of being able to provide an integrated package so that the client need only come to one point in the company to get the service required.

'Our positioning at Civils 2000 will give people information about Amec Capital Projects, which covers the whole range of services. What we want to do is make sure people are aware of the Amec pedigree in civil engineering and of the wider service on offer. The service will involve being able to work from concept, design and build, all the way through to the end of the asset, with demolition.

'Amec Capital Projects is made up of Amec Civil Engineering and Amec Construction. The idea has developed as a result of feedback from our customers and is intended to bring us closer to them. Amec need to supply a wider range of services, because it is all about partnering and alliancing.

'If a client comes along and says 'we want you to build us a road', that can be done. But we are finding organisations saying they don't just want a laboratory built but also a road put in, a treatment plant and electricity diversion done. The client doesn't necessarily want nine or 10 contractors on site but would prefer one that could provide the whole package.

'Amec is very involved with rail, effectively providing maintenance services for Railtrack. It is a strong growing business in that area. The government has said that rail development could and should be preferred environmentally for moving freight and waste materials. Having said that, we are involved in road-building contracts, such as the North Bridge Project in Doncaster and the M11.'

Visit Civils 2000, running in tandem with Interbuild, in Hall 9 of the NEC in Birmingham, May 21-25 2000.

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