The call from clients to drive down costs and present better value but without increasing risk is creating a paradox for the ground engineering sector, according to JRL Civil Engineering general manager Yvonne Ainsworth.
Ainsworth made the comments during her keynote lecture during the Fleming Awards last night at the Institution of Civil Engineers, which was organised by the British Geotechnical Association and sponsored by Cementation Skanska.
Ainsworth said that it had been a challenging year for contractors with the fallout from the collapse of Carillion, project delays, margins at an all time low and overdue debt becoming a serious issue.
“On top of all this, contractors are being pushed to accept more and more risk, along with providing more value and reducing costs, which is somewhat of a paradox,” she said. “It is creating a race to the bottom but which, what or who’s bottom remains to be seen.”
Ainsworth said that the foundations industry has its own part to play in changing the approach. “I was speaking to the Federation of Piling Specialist chairman Phil Hines and he told me that, as contractors, we expect to be chosen on the basis of performance but our concrete and steel choices are still often chosen based on lowest prices,” she explained.
Ainsworth also discussed the skills shortage and pointed out that while geotechnical salaries have fallen in real terms, according to GE’s Geotechnical Services File salary survey, other professions with lower pay are above civil engineering in career league tables.
“There is a factor other than pay at work here,” she said. “There is a greater desire than ever before to have a work/life balance. Many young engineers do not want to leave home at 2am on a Monday morning to be on site in time for the briefing and then arrive home again late on a Friday night. Many are leaving the industry over working hours.
“There is an imbalance between pay and the workload and expectations we place on staff on site.”
Ainsworth admitted that she does not know what the solution is but called the sector to address the challenges placed on the sector by clients and to also look in turn at how these affect the individuals working to deliver these projects. “As an industry we need to collectively buy into the answers that are developed,” she said.