Is the worst over? While our report on output figures for the first quarter of 2009 makes for grim reading (page 7), the last couple of months have seen contraction easing and levels of cautious optimism rising

Certainly, m&e contractors are resilient creatures. Those electrical contractors that made it out to the ECA conference in Malta report a buoyant mood that defied the recessionary climate back home – and they weren’t just sunstruck (pages 12-14).

Incoming ECA president Martin Bailey strongly believes that while the recession has undoubtedly made things extremely tough for the sector, it also offers up many opportunities for the wily contractor, opportunities that are best exploited through innovation.

Firms should always be looking at new ways of working to improve how they go about their business, not only to reduce waste and offer added value to clients but also to diversify their offering and expand into new markets. Bailey urged delegates to “increase the size of their pie” and strive for a place at the top table instead of settling for their existing lowly status.

How should this be done? Bailey is chief innovation officer at the UK’s biggest m&e contractor so he’s in a good position to give some tips. At NG Bailey, regular innovation forums are held to make sure staff can voice their ideas (page 30). People come together from different levels and specialisms to share knowledge, encourage ideas and solve problems.

Such ideas are not just for the big boys. These are easy to replicate, whatever the size of your firm. But if a company is to reap the rewards of innovation, it first has to encourage an innovation culture within its organisation. Once the culture is there, the rest falls into place.

Your staff are your greatest assets. Are you making sure that their ideas for innovation are being heard?