Vox pop: How can UK contractors take advantage of opportunities presented by global projects?
Stuart Green, head of the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading
Visitors to construction hotspots such as the Middle East and Hong Kong cannot help but notice the high profile of UK consultancies. But UK contractors operating in such markets are few and far between. They struggle to sell themselves in terms of competitive advantage. What do they have to offer that is not available from elsewhere?
Contractors remain successful in the domestic market as a result of their ability to painlessly to expand and contract in accordance with fluctuations in demand. In no small way, the competitive model is inseparable from the widespread reliance on subcontracting. UK firms have become experts in a process of “contract trading” through which risk is assigned to the supply chain. They are world beaters at risk management in this sense, but unfortunately it’s a competitive model that doesn’t easily translate to international markets.
Richard Whitehead, managing director of project and construction services, UK and Ireland at Aecom
Global competition necessitates that UK companies become more bullish. With international consortia taking lead roles on UK infrastructure projects, why shouldn’t British firms look to mirror this model overseas?
Key to international success is an understanding of local markets and economies. Whether through acquisitions, organic growth or joint ventures, local presence is essential. Establishing on-the-ground operations or a joint venture helps manage the risks and opportunities of doing business abroad. International markets can no longer be conquered by delivering projects remotely. Construction is a local business – you can’t deliver global projects without knowledge of local labour and supply chains.
Santiago Klein, international director at McBains Cooper
It pays to be bullish when considering work overseas. But it pays even more to do your homework first. Our expansion into Latin America was a considered one. We chose a market that was growing, that we understood and that had an appetite for our expertise.
Latin America is a land of opportunity, where many countries benefit from increased stability and steady economic growth. In turn, these governments are committed to further growth and have embraced the public-private partnership procurement model as a route to realising their infrastructure targets.
What they lack is the expertise to put their plans in motion. For British firms willing to be bold, the rewards are plentiful. Since opening in Mexico City in 2008, McBains Cooper now has offices in Lima, Monterrey, Medellín, and Bogotá.
Anil Iyer, chief operating officer of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering
There is certainly scope for UK consultants to keep pursuing international markets, providing their unique selling proposition and target countries are identified, delivery timescales are realistic, and risks are thoroughly evaluated and managed. There are particularly opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises if they partner with larger companies. Companies with young, diverse and flexible workforces that embrace new technologies are best positioned to take advantage of these global opportunities.
Alan Ryder, CEO of environmental consultancy RSK Group
While British construction firms are held in high regard around the world, we must not be complacent and expect a Union Jack flag alone to be a guarantee of quality. We have to prove our credentials and be competitive, as high standards of work are not just the provenance of a British workforce and competition is always getting tougher.
The recession was a painful reminder that we live on an island, with a relatively small economy and limited market. The biggest constraint to growth has been the availability of capital and bank support. You can be as bullish as you like, but what companies need is access to capital.