On May 13-14th, Graycor Co-Chairman Matt Gray attended ENR's 2014 Global Summit in New York City. The event brought together some of the leading minds in the engineering and construction industry and included discussions on technology, human resources, strategy and operations. Academic professors, technology executives, business consultants and operations managers from a variety of backgrounds met to exchange ideas for helping companies to succeed in today's fiercely competitive, more globalized business environment.
Challenges with Human Assets
For engineering and construction companies today, locating, acquiring and retaining qualified employees, the lifeblood of these firms, is a growing challenge. Volumes are beginning to return, but labor pools, hard-hit by layoffs and a mass exodus during the Great Recession, are not recovering at the same rate. At this year's ENR Global conference, experts shared strategies for keeping projects staffed with the well-trained and well-connected workforces that can increase productivity as companies expand into new locales. While global expansion has the allure of larger project volumes and more decorated resumes for interested firms, potential risks include human resource-related challenges such as cultural issues with new labor, bidding challenges from working with unfamiliar subs and foreign operating regulations from traveling outside the U.S.
Graycor's Matt Gray stated, "It has been eye-opening for us to see firms competing, winning, and executing work not only in their home markets or in markets near to them, but also markets that are far away. There are now clearly formidable contractors from all over the world that have the expertise to compete globally and there is a lot that we can learn from them."
Turbulent Business Environment
Discussions at the conference helped to outline the big risks, but also the big rewards that are possible from an expanding global arena. The deep and long recession that was experienced over the past few years may be over, but the industry is forever changed. Countries like China have emerged with fast-growing global competitors that are reaching into markets around the world. This new field of players is helping to create an environment where already low profit margins on work mean that it is now more important than ever to focus on understanding industry trends, and collaborating with strategic partners to develop solutions that will maximize profitability.
Sharper focus on Innovation
For the firms that decide to take the challenges of working globally head-on, advances in technology fueled by a renewed focus on innovation are helping to connect project teams all around the world. Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, cloud storage and file sharing mechanisms, sophisticated Big Data resources and innovative recruiting tools are giving companies what they need to bring more value to clients and more efficiency to projects on an increasingly global scale.
Gray explained, "Over the next decade, technology will continue to evolve quickly around the engineering and construction space as firms look for new ways to solve the problems that stem from a greater need for information. While there are challenges with a globalized business environment, the competitive landscape is also helping firms to think creatively about ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, and that is a very good thing."