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Capacity crunch leads Bouygues UK to import EU subcontractors

27 November 2015

Arnaud Bekaert, managing director of construction at Bouygues UK, has revealed that skills shortages and lack of capacity in the UK supply chain are forcing the French-owned contractor to bring subcontractors from across Continental Europe [corrected 4 Dec] to work on projects in the UK.

Speaking at the CIOB’s International Inspiring Construction Conference, Bakaert identified bricklaying and drylining as trades where it has encouraged supply chain companies it has relationships with to cross borders to work in the UK.

[4 Dec] A company spokeswomen later named France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland as examples of countries where Bouygues had brought companies already in its supply chain - and their site labour - to the UK.

Bakaert’s presentation on the firm’s strategy in the UK explained that it had benefited from the “Bouygues DNA” – or corporate behaviours – that allowed the firm to transfer staff who had gained their experience in other countries to the UK market, thereby mitigating the impact of skills shortages.

"Over the last few months we've been forced to bring over less complex trades, such as bricklaying and drywalling, from abroad. It's not easy for them to adapt to local regulations and codes. Language barriers can also be a problem."

Arnaud Bekaert, Bouygues UK

But in recent months, it had also turned to Continental subcontractors to resource UK projects. Bekaert told the conference: “There is an obvious shortage of trades [in the UK]. We have a longstanding relationship with our UK-based subcontractors, but as a global group we also enjoy similar longstanding relationships with subcontractors that are working in areas of the world where the level of growth is not as sustained as it is in the UK.

“And therefore these subcontractors can have the availability to be brought to the UK… to support the shortage we have here.”

Following his presentation, Bekaert added: “Like many of our competitors, we’ve been relying on importing expertise in specialist trades, such as high marble finishes and facade work, for several years.

“But over the last few months we’ve been forced to bring over less complex trades, such as bricklaying and drywalling, from abroad [corrected 4 Dec]. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s not easy for them to adapt to local regulations and codes. Language barriers can also be a problem.”

Problems of adaptation had also affected Bouygues in its early days in the UK, in 1997, when it had hired consultants with local knowledge.

Bekaert argued: “Adaption is key. There is a different working culture between the UK and France, we had to learn and adapt – understanding both cultures is key to making any venture a success.”

In September, Bouygues secured phase 3 of the Battersea power station redevelopment, a £1.2bn contract that ranks as the biggest building job in the UK excluding power station projects.

Another major recent win is the £100m headquarters development for Cambridge University’s Exam Board.

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