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How is the concrete industry coping after five years of recession?

The concrete sector is innovating, investing and expanding as the market begins to improve, says PERI MD Alasdair Stables.

It wouldn’t be a generalisation to say that contractors have got used to working at today’s level of business and the challenges it brings. They approach winning and executing work in a practical way, wary of the slender margins on offer.

“The positive signs are not just in the South-east – instead we’re seeing optimism across England and Wales”

Most are resourceful as they continue to look for the most economic, sustainable and repeatable forms of building.

For example, we have seen slipforming used on smaller projects than traditionally expected, providing quality of finish isn’t important.

Conditions are improving

But things are changing. At PERI, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of enquiries this year, giving us the confidence to start recruiting a number of full-time additional staff; 12 months ago that would have seemed unlikely. 

Encouragingly, the positive signs are not just in the South-east; instead we are seeing optimism across England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland aren’t showing quite the same signs, but perhaps 2014 will be the year that brings similar news there.

Optimism will take time to translate into work

While this optimism is clearly welcome, it will take time to translate to improve the health of our industry. Clients have benefited greatly from the inevitable pressure on tendering, as every last contract was fought with the vigour required to survive a downturn. 

And many will continue to do so, as projects that were secured recently are delivered in a climate that is already seeing signs of wage increases in core trades.

“Saving on construction time – while improving safety – generates savings far beyond those superficial upfront lower prices”

So what is the key to getting ahead? At PERI, we continue to believe that working together as partners is the starting point to realise efficiencies far beyond the like-for-like cost comparisons that are natural to make, especially in times of low margins.

This is because saving on construction time – while improving safety – generates savings far beyond those superficial upfront lower prices.

In order for companies to ensure they are considering the big picture, it inevitably comes down to their people and the need for continuing professional development. 

Now is the time to invest in training

While training for many roles in construction has thankfully matured to become the norm, it’s among management that the picture starts to blur. A recession brings the need to reduce costs and any non-critical training and development at this level is often sacrificed or at least stretched. 

If companies that have delayed management and leadership development can find the confidence to proceed without delay, they will be handsomely rewarded.

A programme that invigorates and motivates their key people won’t just translate to a competitive edge; it will improve morale and loyalty.

“I have a real sense of optimism at the moment. Our industry is one of the most resourceful and meritocratic in Britain”

Although time is always precious, there are ways to minimise costs. Many suppliers offer tailored training for their partners to ensure their teams are up to date and making savings before their competitors do.

I have a real sense of optimism at the moment. Our industry is one of the most resourceful and meritocratic in Britain, and after working so hard to make it through the first recession of the 21st century, we must move with even greater confidence to improve our industry for the benefit of our clients and shareholders alike.

It’s only by having a sustainable profit margin that we can reinvest for the future and generate the manufacturing growth that we need.

Alasdair Stables is managing director PERI

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