News & Views

FPS Podcast – 3 March 2021

Jim De Waele, President Europe at Keller Talks Global Issues Impacting Construction

Joining Federation of Piling specialists (FPS) podcast host, FPS Chair Steve Hadley this month, is Jim De Waele. Jim is one of the most prominent players in the UK foundation market, with a career spanning over 30 years. As Group Strategy Director and President Europe for Keller, Jim talks about some of the biggest global issues that are affecting the construction industry, from the European reaction to Brexit and how it may harm the UK skills market to the impact of the Coronavirus. He also talks in detail about his involvement in the writing of the ICE Specification for Piling and Embedded Retaining Walls, and how much of the world looks to Britain when it comes to standards.

The podcast kicks off with Jim talking about his role heading up the various committee’s contribution to the many chapters of the third edition of the ICE Specification for Piling and Embedded Retaining Walls. He also used the opportunity to highlight his recent blog, to promote the use of the document, and learn the lessons of those who have gone before. In particular, he stresses how it should not be used post-problem but before to avoid the problem! The work of the DFI is also discussed and its efforts in bringing all areas of geotechnical contracting together toward common goals and standards.

Jim then moved on to talk about his global view of the impact of the Coronavirus and how, whilst it has disproportionately impacted different countries, in the main most companies have been able to keep working, which has helped keep cash flowing through the system. The importance of infrastructure projects to support all construction work was also touched upon.

Around the globe, Jim highlighted those countries doing well and the various emerging markets importance to growth, but not at the neglect of work from nations already mature. He laboured the point that whilst you may be a global company, the purchase of construction services is still a very ‘local’ decision and you need to acknowledge this to be successful. Ground conditions importantly will always be ‘local’ and therefore you need to there to understand the challenges it presents.

The economic impact of Brexit was discussed and other consequences, such as its impact on skilled labour, with fewer graduates considering the UK as a good place to work. Concerningly, the issue of potential employees not feeling welcome in the country was discussed. Immigration rules are certainly due an overhaul, Jim stressed, and how the UK is actually a loser from not being able to import specific skills.

He also speaks about how the impact of COVID and Brexit means the market may not be quite as busy as it could have been bringing a little capacity, but this is not certain. Diversity and bringing other skills into the sector are also discussed as well as degree apprenticeships.

Concluding the interview, BIM was discussed briefly and how it should be talking the industry forward, but progress is slow progress, perhaps from a reluctance of all stakeholders to truly embrace it. How this can be changed is discussed together with Keller’s work to help promote BIM.


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