The return to sustained growth is good news; but are we ready?

Antony Oliver

Acceptance this week by the International Monetary Fund that it got it wrong over the UK’s economic performance serves to highlight again the welcome fact that we have turned a corner towards sustainable growth 

For all involved in infrastructure design, construction and maintenance this is of course very welcome news and justification for the constant lobbying by the industry to the effect that investment in the nation’s basic building blocks is fundamental to recovery.

The results of the latest research into architectural and engineering consultancy trends by software house Deltek highlights that “the cautious optimism has switched to a level of considerable optimism” with 72% of firms questioned now expecting growth in 2014. 

Positive stuff yet there is still much to do. Growth of 1.7% to date is certainly positive and the 2.7% expected next year very welcome. But it is not yet a return to the good times.

Whether in the public or private sector, clients are still faced with huge demands on their operational and capital budgets and a constant battle to squeeze ever more value out of every single pound spent. 

Innovative thinking across infrastructure design, delivery and operation is, like never before, the order of the day as clients seek sustainable, lower cost, higher value solutions to their problems.

Fortunately, as we read in this week in Infrastructure Intelligence, there is a huge amount of such innovative thinking going on all around us.

Take the work being done by Senseive as it invests in its ideas a technology to bring new products into the world of infrastructure monitoring and maintenance.

Take the ideas being discussed by Tony Vidago at Arup to use technology to boost capacity, safety and reliability on the existing rail network.

Take the investment discussed this week by Greg Bentley as Bentley systems drive forward the industry embrace of BIM and data management.

All are small incremental steps towards helping the industry to embrace a new, more efficient, more innovative future. All are vital to the success of infrastructure as the driver for UK growth.

But all also rely on the industry attracting and retaining the great talent needed to drive forward to vital new ideas. And as we also read in this week’s research, finding, attracting and retaining this talent is now seen as the biggest threat to future success in the business.

That is a big worry. Worse still, it is a big worry that we seem to have been dealing with for far too long. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great initiatives going on out there to try to attract that vital talent. But it is still not enough.

As Engineering UK’s Paul Jackson points out this week, government must follow the US example, which with President Obama’s support, he says, “is competing to win” when it comes to technology and engineering talent. We have to respond; we must, as they say, innovate or die. 

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email antony.oliver@infrastructure-intelligence.com.