Thoughts from the Chair: Time

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Article by Sally Hudson, AGS Chair

I have always been in awe of the commitment shown by our AGS committee and Working Group members, or in fact by anyone in industry contributing to any extra-curricular activities over and above the ‘day job’. Ours is an often demanding and fast-paced way of earning a living, requiring an extra level of effort over the norm; to travel, undertake site work and meet deadlines. So this extra-over, as it were, must be recognised and gratitude is extended to practitioners and to Member companies that sanction the considerable amount of non-fee earning contributions made by staff to the AGS and other committees and industry bodies. This is how the AGS remains a not-for-profit Association and can divert resources where needed the most. We strive to provide opportunities to all those in the wider geotechnical and geoenvironmental industry for participation in all our activities. I am also grateful to all of our seminar and conference speakers for their gifts of time and expertise, which enable the AGS to fulfil this commitment to members. I will continue to drive and actively engage in these events.

The time committed to AGS activities is particularly impactful on businesses both this year and last, and our extra-curricular roles are being tested now more than ever, as we recover from the upheavals posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, by Brexit and by the unprecedented demands of HS2 investigations, enabling works and construction. I have spoken to representatives of many companies over the last few weeks and months, from consultants, main and specialist sub-contractors and from client bodies and asset owners, and the situation seems universal in that there is a shortage of quality candidates to recruit to permanent positions. This in turn has led to an increased pressure on the existing labour force. It has been well-reported that there is a national skills shortage in the UK, affecting several sectors and engineering is one of them. This matter has been predicted for some time and I am raising it here as I perceive it as a real risk to one of the core tenets of the AGS, that of a commitment to promote and enhance quality and safe practice. How do we find our way through to ensure a balance between fulfilling our commitments to clients and maintaining a high quality of work and improving on it? As the new AGS Chair, it is my responsibility to support and guide the Association activities to ensure that we provide benefit to all of our participants. I am pleased to report that we are already exploring several routes towards helping address the skills shortage crisis (and it is a crisis). We are working with academic bodies to promote awareness of this rewarding career among students in higher education and to explore potential apprenticeship routes. We are also in the process of consulting with those early in their careers and encouraging representatives into Working Groups to ensure refreshed thinking and to capture input from that group.

There is, for some, still a sense of being under-valued as a profession. Although in the long term this situation in which we find ourselves may improve our standing and recognition in the market place, we are already seeing an increase in remuneration packages required to attract candidates, a cost that will only have to be picked up by our clients. We are seeing costs of certain major infrastructure schemes escalating and although our front-end services are only a part of those costs, it is not hard to see how this could spread across all sectors. One of the powers of the AGS is that it has a voice, along with other collaborative industry organisations within Ground Forum, for Members to lobby Government on issues affecting our members and industry. Those companies that are not Member organisations of the AGS but who are active in the community and who use AGS data, please consider joining to assist in the promotion and enhancement of quality and safe practice within our industry.

Hopefully you have seen an increase in communication on what we do as an organisation to those outside of the AGS Committees during the term of my predecessor’s Chair tenure and I will continue to support this. This is my plea for your suggestions as to how we can improve or how you can assist: