News & Views

A Year in Piling

Piling is an extremely rewarding career and there is plenty of talent within it and in the wider geotechnical sector. However, an ageing workforce, competition from other industries and its unwelcoming perception to underrepresented groups are all contributing to the present and growing skills shortage. Determined to play its part in reversing this trend the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) has stepped up activity to address these issues through 2021. Its Early Careers Group (ECG) initiative, which was established to help and support emerging talent within the piling and geotechnical sector, in particular, has been extremely successful in engaging with young people in shaping the future for the Federation and the wider industry. Almost monthly meetings and latterly site visits are doing much to engage with all in the sector, but also helping forge connections with educational institutions to provide those yet to decide on a career with an insight into the geotechnical sector.

In fact, in support of encouraging more young people to consider careers in the piling and geotechnical sectors the FPS ECG launched an educational initiative targeting universities, colleges, and secondary schools. The initiative is already providing valuable information about the opportunities and various career paths available, and it is hoped the scheme will develop further.

The launch follows the success of recent presentations to students of Bath and London South Bank universities, and will help highlight piling, geotechnics, and the wider construction sector as a rewarding career choice with enormous potential.

It was good to see the FPS initiated mentoring scheme, which last year moved under the Ground Forum banner to help it reach a much wider audience, also move at a pace and with mentors and mentees paired up and also playing its part in establishing the UK ground engineering industry as a welcoming sector, offering many rewarding career opportunities. The programme, together will all ECG initiatives collectively, is one of the FPS’s core aims; to encourage new young talent into the industry and longer-term help address the ever-present skills shortage the construction sector faces.

Support for women in construction, specifically International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2021, also continued with the FPS publishing a number or articles and though perspectives of women involved in the ECG, and in particular how, addressing any gender imbalance, as well as other underrepresented groups, is more than simply programmes of positive discrimination. More, it about promoting the merits of a career in Engineering to the younger generation, and how that may actually do more to attract women into the industry.

Sustainability is never far from any organisation’s thoughts and throughout 2021 the FPS Sustainability Group has not only asked question of itself in terms of how it can play its part towards reaching the government’s goal of net carbon zero by 2025, but also begin putting in place actions. It also established a Sustainability Series of webinars, looking at topics such as ‘Low Carbon Concrete in Piling’, but the FPS is also looking at more immediate ways of tackling the issues, such as encouraging its members to use the EFFC/DFI’s Carbon Calculator for foundations, so that contractors to establish their carbon footprint on site. Beyond this, it is looking to include carbon measurement as an FPS audit requirement, and the introduction of carbon reduction practices that will bring a collective reduction.

Safety, of course, is always paramount for the FPS and 2021 saw it publish its Guidance on Restricted Zones, which it made available free to download from its website. The handbook has been produced to assist members in managing restricted zones around plant and equipment usually found in a piling and specialist foundations worksite, as well promote the importance of understanding that sufficient space is provided to enable safe operations and the effective separation of people and operational plant. Take-up has been good too, which is encouraging. The FPS also urged its members and the wider piling community to look closely at Working Platform Certificates (WPC). Given the reassurance and confirmation the WPC should offer to all involved, the FPS was concerned about the rising number of incidents and proposed that they should be subject to greater scrutiny throughout the duration of a project.

The FPS podcasts, which had been produced over the last year, having attracted guests as diverse as Ruby Wax, talking mental health and wellbeing, through to leading piling and geotechnical industry figures such as Suzannah Nichol, Tim Chapman, Anusha Shah, Alasdair Henderson and Jim De Waele, have been extremely successful. In fact, so successful it created the not unwelcome problem of how the FPS could expand the communications channel to engage further with those in the geotechnical sector. After many discussions with members, listeners, and industry groups, from April, Ground Forum, with the support of Ground Engineering magazine, took over their production. Their involvement has allowed the podcasts to develop further and tackle wider industry related issues, as well as attract guests from a broader range of stakeholders in the construction sector. To reflect its wider engagement, the podcast is now known as ‘Breaking Ground’ and has already looked at issues such as diversity and LGBTQ in construction.

A legacy of COVID, flexible working became more mainstream and this year the FPS took a step forward to examine how the idea of ‘Flexible Working’ could be reconciled within a sector historically closed to the idea. With the construction sector as a whole struggling to attract and retain highly skilled talent, with its perceived inflexible nature deterring young people from considering it as a career, flexible working has to be considered. Taking the first step, the FPS began collaborating with Timewise, a not-for-profit organisation that helps companies recognise the benefits that flexible working and flexible hiring can bring, but also how such flexible working can be achieved within the nature of construction and piling activities. Specifically, the collaboration is exploring ways to create more opportunities for flexible working within the piling and geotechnical engineering industry, with the end-goal to make the sector more future fit and attract and retain a more diverse workforce.

The FPS Awards also ran this this year and were a chance to celebrate the outstanding achievements of individuals and companies of the FPS and their contribution to the Ground Engineering industry. With categories spanning Safety and Innovation, Technology, Sustainability, Early Career, and the Chairs’ Award, there were a record number of entries too. I would like to thank all those who entered and congratulate the winners. And on the subject of Awards the FPS’s ‘Plant Restricted Zones Handbook’ was also shortlisted in the Health & Safety category at the 2021 Ground Engineering Awards.

A new Associate Membership category for reinforcement suppliers, whose input into the Federation will be extremely useful, was introduced and the FPS also contributed to the UK Specification for Ground Investigation, published by ICE Publishing, which is undergoing a revision. The revised Third Edition will be a big step forward.

Looking to 2022, the FPS will continue to tackle the issues of diversity and inclusivity, as well as doing as much as it can to make the sector attractive as a career option for all. It will continue to look at topics such as wellbeing and mental health, but also continue with projects already underway such as flexible working, and its continue its core remit of promoting safety and standards.

Author:  Steve Hadley, Chair, Federation of Piling Specialists