Developing the Welsh Supply Chain has been the primary focus of the Construction Futures Wales programme since 2014, working closely with industry to ensure that Welsh construction SMEs get the opportunities they need within both the public and private sectors. Over the last 3 years the programme has facilitated the acquisition of £34.2m of new business for the sector by working side by side with suppliers, clients, industry leaders and major contractors to influence procurement processes and ensure that Wales gets a big slice of the project pie.
But with such local success also comes one of the biggest challenges faced by the industry at this crucial time - a lack of human capital. With so many major projects underway across the country and so few new people entering the construction career pool, the industry faces its biggest potential skills shortage yet. The stop-start process of winning new work creates uncertainty even for major contractors and leads to a migration of key skills away from where its needed.
In an industry so reliant on its people, Willmott Dixon’s Northern Operations Manager Alistair Brymer talks about his experience with the Construction Futures Wales Programme and wonders why more cannot be done to keep the Welsh pipeline primed and ready for the next big challenge.
Founded in 1852, Willmott Dixon is a well-established privately owned construction ‘institution,’ lead by generation after generation of the Willmott family. The Northern Region (Construction) side of the company specialises in non-residential building projects and currently employs 250 members of staff across 22 sites in the North of England and North Wales and delivers a huge range of development projects from heritage projects, leisure and culture projects to cutting-edge schools and state of the art Scientific facilities.
Within Wales, Willmott Dixon have developed a formidable reputation for quality of delivery and delivery of a wider, social and economic impact. Having won a position on a number of local frameworks, most significantly the North Wales Construction Framework (NWCF), the organisation needed to break into local supply chain in order to maximise the benefits within the local community and create sustainable building projects – starting with Rhyl High School.
Having discussed their requirements initially with sector ambassadors within the Welsh Government, Willmott Dixon were advised to make contact with Construction Futures Wales for assistance with their Supply Chain development and make the most of the wealth of support on offer.
“We were in danger of trying to ‘re-invent the wheel’ in sourcing our local suppliers and contractors – we noticed a huge wealth of knowledge within Construction Futures Wales, in particular John Humphreys, who’s personal knowledge of the local industry was expansive. We were in discussions with the framework providers and they recommended that we work with Construction Futures Wales to make the most of the pan-Wales opportunity on offer.”
“The very first ‘Meet The Buyer’ exercise at Rhyl Football Club (Rhyl School Project) still rates as one of the most successful supply chain events we’ve ever had.”
“We met most of our North Wales Supply Chain at that point and most of them are still with us now, working on the latest project (Ysgol Glan Clwyd), all this way down the road. “
“That event was unique because we were not just looking for our major project contractors but the next level down again, plus we were looking for local materials suppliers too. Most of these are still working with us on our current projects and have become very successful relationships.”
“We spent 75% of the funding within the immediate locality, and it had a huge knock-on effect in the community, from local shops and garages, accommodation providers and transport. We also re-acquainted ourselves with companies we had worked with elsewhere – Coatech for example – we didn’t realise they were based so close to the site.”
“We also had Willmott Dixon Energy Services with us at the Rhyl event – so they were able to join in and benefit from the local supply chain too.”
Following on from the Rhyl School project, Willmott Dixon won the tender to deliver the M-SPARC project – the design and development of a highly specialised building for the new Menai Science Park.
“The M-SPARC event was even bigger and better. It was a great venue and a huge amount of work went in up-front from Construction Futures Wales to understand what we needed and who we could accept. The result was fantastic – the right companies, in front of the right people with the right products. The ability of John and his team to focus and filter the applications meant that practically all of the attendees were the right people for us.”
“What made it even more useful were the other organisations who came along who were also involved in the project – the local Council and the Biomass project – it was a very clever use of everyone’s time using the same event to widen the supply chain across the board and link together other companies and projects.”
Construction Futures Wales provided significant sourcing support from the outset to ensure that the opportunities on offer from Willmott Dixon were able to be taken advantage of. Willmott Dixon have specific supply chain standards which contractors have to meet and certain accreditations which must be in place, including ISO9001 and ISO14001. Construction Futures Wales provides 1:1 support to companies trying to access these larger supply chains, helping them to achieve these standards and become more effective supply chain partners.
“All of the companies applying had been well-briefed by Construction Futures Wales and their services well targeted. No time was wasted and we were very impressed with the work the team had done, the event was very streamlined with a huge amount of information sharing which was beneficial to all parties.”
As the M-SPARC project was so specialised, Wilmott Dixon found themselves introduced to new materials and building technologies, sparking a raft of Research & Development projects with new companies to experiment with new forms of cladding and finishes.
“We were also introduced to new methods of environmental management as a result of using different companies. This project was a highly specialised building and it really tested the local supply chain, in terms of both skills and capacity. But fortunately for us, the wider exercise of developing our supply chain would bear fruit and we were able to re-introduce previous partners from earlier jobs on the framework.”
“We are now keenly awaiting the new framework (NWCF2) to be published so that we can start looking at projects for 2018 as there are limited opportunities in North Wales currently. We are nearing completion on M-SPARC and Ysgol Glan Clwyd and after that, we have no other projects in this region.”
“Sadly, this means much of our loyal supply chain will migrate elsewhere for work. Meet The Buyer is always a good exercise but for each event – even if hundreds of companies attend – the actual companies we end up working with is a very small proportion once all access requirements, such as PQQs, etc, have been met. It takes an enormous amount of resource just to get a handful of suitable companies so it is vital for us that these events are well targeted and well sourced.”
“There is so much for us to weigh up in terms of cost and capacity. We have a really good 1st Tier in place now but we really need to concentrate on the next level in order to keep our chain as local as possible. All the big local contractors are saturated with a shared, qualified workforce but its getting the local micro-businesses, the man-in-van contractors involved that will be vital moving forward.
“The well qualified, skilled workforce is always going in the opposite direction – they may be based in Wales but they will head across the border for regular work as the Welsh pipeline is so erratic. “
“Our biggest success story in North Wales has been our continuation of work from project to project, taking our supply chain with us. Frameworks need to start catering for smaller pieces of work in order to keep our local contractors working in Wales – focusing more on the life cycle of the building and the ongoing maintenance will keep things local, long after the short building phase is finished.”
“We have really learned the importance of utilising industry knowledge and talking to organisations such as Construction Futures Wales to ensure that each time we do this it adds value – not just ticking boxes.”
“Willmott Dixon prides itself on delivering a hyper-local project and in order for this to work, supply chains need to work differently. Working with Construction Futures Wales has helped us to achieve this – we need to make sure this much-needed support continues into the future.”