“Civils is getting sexy”

At the Builders’ Merchants Federation’s (BMF) first civils and drainage forum in January, Alumasc Water Management Solutions (AWMS) managing director, Steve Durdant-Hollamby, was invited to present on trends in the market. He addressed industry challenges, but also new opportunities, saying “civils is getting sexy”, because of 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 (although reportedly they were still thought-provoking), but rather for the palpable desire to make a difference. Chaired by Nick Boyle, Jewsons civils development director, 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 products; the skills shortage; specification; Carillion’s downfall and its impact, as well as improving the image of construction.

The top four takeaways of the evening according to AWMS were:

  1.  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 products to combat the skills shortage; effective use of technology to add value and thinking more aesthetically when developing products. Civil drainage doesn’t have to be ugly and grey.
  2. Empty infrastructure promises: The government has promised £500 billion of infrastructure investment over the next 10 years, but the most the UK has ever delivered in a single year previously is £20 billion. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Skills shortage: Our industry is facing a long-term shortage in skilled labour that will significantly impact our ability 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 it was said that we all need to do our bit to raise the profile and image of construction and highlight the many career opportunities in our sector.