Preparing for a bright future

International consultancy and construction company Mace has big plans to continue growing. Antony Oliver speaks to chief operating officer, major programmes and infrastructure, Jason Millett about the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Jason Millet, Mace

Twenty five years ago five professionals set up a new project management business with the goal finding “a better way to deliver for clients”. 

Back then Mace was all about making an impact in the commercial building market with lean teams driving value through collaboration and thinking harder about the questions that really mattered to clients to get the right outcomes. 

“It is a great market at the moment but we really cannot be complacent as we are competing with firms from all over the world and, with massive consolidation going on there are now some very big players out there.” Jason Millett

A quarter of a century later the business, now with different but equally independent management, is bigger and broader with a recent portfolio including eye-catching projects such as the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Shard and Ashghal in Qatar. 

Today the business encompass a global portfolio of programme and project management, cost consultancy, construction delivery, facilities management and most recently a more diverse portfolio of infrastructure projects.

“We want to continue to build the size of our infrastructure business and we need to really grow it over the next five years,” explains Jason Millett, Mace chief operating officer for major programmes and infrastructure.

“It is a great market at the moment but we really cannot be complacent as we are competing with firms from all over the world and, with massive consolidation going on there are now some very big players out there.”

Expansion plans

The plan for growth will see the firm expand over the next five years from around 4500 staff to a whopping 7000. It is a bold ambition and one that, given the current pressure on available talent in the market, Millett is clear it will require more than simply doing more of the same when it comes to recruitment. 

“Whichever way you look at it we have a perfect storm around staff and resourcing,” explains Millett, reflecting on recent reports that an additional 500,000 people or more will be needed to deliver the UK’s current pipeline of infrastructure work.

“But our 2020 ambition is to get to £2bn turnover and to achieve this goal means we need more people. So you have to look at new pools of labour,” he adds. 

And despite having “a respectable churn rate” as Millett puts it, the reality is that gaps will also have to be filled along the way as staff leave to hit the firms’ planned growth to 7000 staff.

Boosting diversity

Meeting this considerable challenge, he explains, means doing things differently. For a start, Millett points out, that it will mean changing the perception of the firm as an employer and appealing to people who perhaps would not otherwise consider a career in the construction industry or a role at Mace.

That starts, he says, by attracting a more diverse workforce and ensuring that the firm is somewhere that all people want to work. 

“Branching out into nuclear and transport is about securing bigger programmes of work over longer periods. Clients want something different because they are not always getting what they need from their existing supply chain."

“The emphasis is to bring more men and women into the business but with more balance in gender,” he explains. “Not by positively discriminating but by making the business more attractive to all – doing it for all the right business reasons.”

Across the board Mace is looking at its policies and procedures to ensure it is both family and lifestyle friendly so that having attracted the right staff, they stay. Additionally they are looking for people who themselves would not have previously considered a career in infrastructure.

“At a graduate level we are now taking on people with arts degrees and geography degrees,” say Millett. “We are fortunate that as we have a consultancy and contracting business it is easier to look at broader skills.”

In addition Mace’s international footprint means that it can transfer skills in and out of territories – filling short term requirements but also proving staff with valuable experience outside their home markets.

Entering new sectors is another way that Mace is attempting to broaden its talent pool and in particular the firm is targeting the burgeoning energy and transport sectors.

Nuclear ambition

“Branching out into nuclear and transport is about securing bigger programmes of work over longer periods,” he says. “Clients want something different because they are not always getting what they need from their existing supply chain. But it is also easier to articulate to people why it is worth their while joining a firm like Mace.”

“We are trying to create career paths to show people how they might progress within the company. This, combined with enhancing the performance appraisal process, instils us with confidence that we will yield positive results,” he explains.

Project management skills he says are transferrable and that gives the opportunity to build on those skills and gain specialist experiences.

For example, this month, working in joint venture with Atkins and French nuclear specialist Areva, Mace won £1.72bn contract to design and construct the so-called “silos direct encapsulation plant project” at Sellafield. 

This complex project involves processing intermediate level waste recovered from one of the oldest nuclear waste silos on the Sellafield site and then packaging it for long-term storage.

This work sits alongside Mace’s existing nuclear new build and decommissioning portfolio across sites across the UK. 

“At Sellafield we are looking at target cost work and starting to broaden our risk profile, bringing with it a greater reward,” explains Millett. “We would rather work with the client to develop a better service than just continue to provide staff and resource to meet the client’s existing needs.”

It is a similar situation in transport where Mace is targeting both the rail and road sectors for potential growth.

“We are very privileged to have been working on some of the nation’s flagship highways projects such as the A14 and the Highways Agency’s smart motorway delivery programme. It has allowed us to build our credibility with the Highways Agency and built up our skills base,” he explains.

Rail expansion

“But we have also been able to transfer skills and learning from other sectors – the lessons learnt from the Development Consent Order (DCO) planning application work in the energy sector were passed into the work we did on DCO for the A14, for example.”

But it is the rail sector that offers perhaps the greatest long term transport opportunities.

Work on high profile rail stations such as the Birmingham New Street transformation have given Mace a credible CV in the industry. But it is also now branching out from the buildings dominated work and has already gained a strong foothold in new areas such as the electrification market working alongside Network Rail on the Great Western Mainline.

“Rail is an exciting market for us and we think that there are some really big opportunities for us around the HS2 project,” he explains. “HS2 is a game changer for the economy but also for the industry. It is a long term commitment with a focus on regeneration that gives really long term benefits to the nation. We are talking about a catalyst for 20 to 30 years of development.”

Millett has recently been involved in the steering committee for the Infrastructure Plan for London helping to shape the capital’s development over the next 30 years so is well aware of the impact that investment can make on the local and national economies. 


But equally he understands that the substantial forward pipeline of infrastructure project work that the UK is now blessed with is also in many ways the root cause of the skills shortage. The clear problem, says Millett is the government’s consistent failure over the last decades to build skills in preparation for the projects.“The government is right that it is for the industry to build up its own skills,” he says. “But it needs to continue to build the pipeline of work across the built environment so that the market has the confidence to recruit and invest in training apprentices and other staff.”

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