CW 2015 UAE Infra Conf: Head on collision

The reasons for the failure to deliver major transport projects can be laid at the industry’s own door

ANALYSIS, Business, Transport projects

Contractors, clients and consultants need to work together better if the Middle East is to stand any chance of successfully delivering the massive transport projects that are currently underway, according to a panel at Construction Week’s UAE Infrastructure Summit.

Melvyn Ford, a vice-president at project manager Hill International, which is working on airport projects in Abu Dhabi and Oman, and railway projects in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said that one of the main problems with the delivery of schemes is that industry relations remain adversarial.

“We don’t learn lessons in this region, we tend to do things in the same way,” he said. “It’s been like that for 40-50 years.

“A lot is down to attitudes. We’re trained to take positions from an early age. We’re still brought up in an environment where the main aim is not to protect the project or the client as much, but it is more to do with protecting ourselves. We’ve seen this kind of attitude repeated everywhere.”

He said that during a long career in working on huge transport projects, only one ? in Hong Kong ? had been delivered on time and to budget and that was where all parts of the industry took a truly collaborative approach.

“I can’t see that will happen in the Middle East because of the attitude and the way things are done here. It is
not conducive to that.”

Kez Taylor, chief executive officer of Dubai-based contractor Alec, agreed that the industry “can sometimes be a very negative one” in terms of its environment.

He said that his son recently visited Vietnam to help build homes for people which had given him a really positive experience of how construction can change people’s lives, but said this experience is often forgotten when bogged down in reactive disputes on projects.

“I think there is a massive opportunity. You’ve got to create a great environment where people can develop, grow and be challenged. And enjoy coming to work. And I think you enjoy coming to work when you are winning. If you’re on top of your game, a project is going well and people are doing things together then it’s essentially rewarding.”

He said that Alec was able to do that in its own company, but “we’ve got to figure out how we get that right as an industry”.

“I think we’re way too divided.”

Alec has worked on several projects at Dubai International Airport, including Concourse D which is expected to complete by the middle of this year, and Taylor said the key lesson to be learned in the successful delivery of schemes like this is “getting stakeholders together early”.

Harj Dhaliwell, vice president of Parsons, argued that if clients want to make sure projects are handed over on time they have to do “as much pre-planning as possible”.

He advises that advanced works packages should be undertaken to ensure engagement with key stakeholders and that projects should be packaged into smaller chunks to make them both simpler and easier to deliver.

Another major challenge that will be faced by governments looking to complete roads, rail and airport projects across the GCC is that there are several mega-projects taking place concurrently.

Graeme Bampton, rail technical director of Aurecon, said that the resource pool of plant, labour and materials “is actually quite limited”.

“You can get concrete and steel, but you tend not to be able to get professional engineers. Current projects have sucked up an awful lot of capabilities from traditional markets in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

“A couple of years ago, when there was the downturn here in the UAE, everyone went to Saudi and Qatar. If the good times are coming back to the UAE, does that mean a lot of the engineers will come back? You might see professionals being a lot more transient because there are a lot more alternatives.”

Ford agreed, stating that it was already difficult to find top-level staff for some of its Saudi mega-projects. It is currently working on the Jabal Omar Development Project next to Makkah’s Grand Mosque, for which it requires around 220 staff.

“We’re currently about 70 people light on that.”

He argued that if 100 people are typically needed for a project, there is usually not much chance of getting the amount of talented staff that are required.

As a result, what happens is that firms rely on a mix of senior and junior or entry-level staff in order to deliver work.

“The key people at the top are the ones that make the difference,” said Ford. “These are difficult people to get, and once you have them, they will be difficult to keep.”

The panel debate was chaired by Pinsent Masons’ managing partner, Middle East, Sachin Kerur.

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