Like in football, timing in the business world is everything and if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail
I know that you may well now be sick of hearing about the World Cup, the missed opportunities, the chase for glory and the ignominious failure of Roy and his team of overpaid underperformers but I wonder whether there are some lessons for us all in the manner of the English team’s build up, performance and ultimate lack of success.
We, operating in the built environment, like England footballers, are performing on the global stage. I appreciate that many contractors, architects and construction managers find it hard enough struggling at home on a day to day basis. They may feel that the international arena is only the concern of the larger firms or to use the footballing metaphor why should those who see themselves as the equivalent of Grimsby town be concerned at the ramifications of the latest signing for Real Madrid.
The Chinese see our industry as the equivalent of the football Premier League with the top architects, project managers, cost consultants and contractors
A big criticism of the system that produces England footballers is that our Premier League is populated by mostly foreign players, therefore English talent is not nurtured or developed. For a Chelsea or Manchester United it is all about short term glory, winning the league at home or abroad, is everything, the system is totally mercenary and the idea of adopting a “grow your own” policy is paid lip service by most. My own team Southampton is unusual with its skill in developing world class talent.
The Chinese construction bank recently agreed investment in HS2 and our Nuclear Power station building programme to the tune of £14bn. Part of the quid pro quo for this funding will I suspect be some form of skills transfer. They see our industry as the equivalent of the football Premier League with the top architects, project managers and cost consultants as well as top notch contractors. The Chinese want to compete on the world stage as well as develop a more effective home grown construction industry so they come here looking to learn from our talent. It may also be that they may want to hire our workforce as well.
However, this could leave us at home as being a bit like a beleaguered England manager scratching around for talent. The message is simple - spot the talent early, nurture them so that they are playing an active part in moving the company forward and don’t leave it until the last moment to put a scratch team together because a new project has suddenly emerged that has been on ice for the last five years. If you put your star striker on the transfer list at the first whiff of trouble, don’t be surprised if they leave when given the chance.
Now is the time for us mere mortals not kicking a football around in Brazil to re-build and plan for 2024
Those in charge of the England football talent department should have been working with new talent straight after the South African World Cup four years ago, they should have appointed the England manager on merit rather than as a hurried replacement for a disenchanted Italian Prima Donna. He should have been given carte blanche to pick his team and work with them on a four year rather than a four month programme. However it is naive to treat football as anything other than the ultimate expression of business and it is one of the few areas of commercial activity where the staff all drive more expensive cars than the directors.
Now is the time for us mere mortals not kicking a football around in Brazil to re-build and plan for 2024. We should be quite ruthless, cherry pick the best, raid the university undergraduate talent pools and start a co-ordinated marketing campaign that projects our industry as preferable to accountancy, legal or academic career paths. At an earlier stage we also need to be approaching primary schools and offering show and tell days where the brightest and the best that already work with us go into talk to children and highlight that there is more to the industry than Bob the Builder. The RICS has already championed a programme of schools engagement but I would like to see cross industry fertilisation with all the professional bodies working with the Department of Education to identify and nurture talent. Our industry is vital to the UK economy and now is the time to start planning for its future.
Once you are on the plane leaving Rio clutching a tear stained three lions football shirt it is too late. We should watch and learn, timing is everything and if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Richard Steer is chairman of Gleeds Worldwide