Change is here and now it’s “the new normal”, say industry leaders

Industry leaders speaking at FIDIC Berlin 2018 have stressed the importance of adapting and embracing change within the consultancy and engineering sector to ensure that firms across the world see improved productivity levels and future business success.

First to take to the stage was Asa Bergman, president and CEO of Sweco Group, who highlighted the challenge of climate change facing the industry. “The industry is becoming the driver of change in this area, when it used to be the politicians pushing us. We need to work faster and use our knowledge to tackle climate change,” she told the audience.

“We also need the human competence to meet the growing demands of our sector. The skills shortage is holding us back A lack of engineers in all markets is affecting the industry and we must find ways of attracting more engineers. It’s hard for a single company to tackle all these change issues so we need the politicians to play a role too,” Bergman added.

Manish Kothari, president of Sheladia Associates, stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion and valuing people. “Support, accept and respect people. Inclusiveness and diversity is crucial, everyone matters and we each have something to give,” he said. “To attract and retain more people to engineering, we as leaders need to generate spirit and give people a sense of purpose and hold them accountable. Motivating people and gyrating a satisfying work culture will spread across our personal and professional networks. It’s all about changing the culture as I am of the opinion that your working culture defines you.”

Lara Poloni, CEO of EMIA at AECOM said that strategic partnerships were the future. “As an industry it makes us a whole lot richer and they provide us with opportunities for pooling skill sets and expertise. Yes, there are challenges but increasingly single firms on their own can’t answer all the questions that we face. We can’t lose because we bring good engineering content and knowledge to the table.”

Poloni also highlighted politics as something the industry could not ignore as it was increasingly affecting and impacting on firms’ work and said “complexity is the new normal”. “The international political situation is complex and changing, but we need to recognise it as ‘new normal’ and factor it into our work,” she added. 

Keith Howells, chairman of Mott MacDonald, was next on stage and said that that the opportunity for the infrastructure sector was enhanced asset management. “Digital design and construction management should be focused on this and as 99% of our infrastructure is already built, enhancing this is critical,” he said. Howells also made the point that leaders needed to understand value. “As leaders we need to react to the pace of change and understand what is truly innovative and delivering value,” Howells said.

Howells also offered an interesting insight into the changing world of technology and said it information was king, technological advancements simply help firms collect data faster and more efficiently. “As an industry we essentially need to use our knowledge and expertise to add value to the data we receive,” he added.

Finally, David Reid, vice president of Jacobs, said it was vital that companies look to the younger generation more and only when they do will they see the rate of change they might expect. “Age challenges technology adoption. Younger entrants into our sector will accelerate the rate of change when they are in positions of influence,” he said. Not many of the younger generation are in positions of influence where they can take decisions. We have got some fantastic young talent coming through and when they make it to positions of influence then we will see an uptake in the rate of change.”

Reid also highlighted “the death of the billable hour” saying “This model has to change. Our outcomes must be driven by performance, partnerships with clients and colleagues. Not time,” Reid said.

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