Ground Forum Mentoring Scheme

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Mentoring for Greater Diversity; Ground Forum, FPS and AGS Take the First Steps

Joint article between Steve Hadley, Chair of FPS and Neil Parry, Chair of Ground Forum and AGS past Chair

Few would argue that a diverse workforce is one which brings many benefits to a business, providing a fresh outlook, expressing different ideas and showing new ways of thinking. Diversity also reflects society in general and can provide significant value to a business. Promotion of a diverse and capable workforce is an important corporate responsibility for a modern progressive company. The recent AGS webinar: Improving Company Performance through Equality, Diversity and Inclusion discussed the need to eliminate discrimination, create equal opportunities and develop good working relationships between different people.

Statistics tend to vary but Engineering UK’s figures from its ‘Gender disparity in engineering’, brief highlighted that just 12% of those working in engineering are women. The 2019 fourth quarter ONS’s Labour Force Survey showed that just 5.4% of construction workers were BAME and may be as low as 2%. It is likely that the ground engineering sector is similarly unrepresentative.

The Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) played a key part in the establishment of a Mentoring Scheme, which is now being taken forward by Ground Forum (GF); bringing together the representation of related societies and other trade associations, including the FPS and AGS. The scheme is designed specifically to support the goal of increasing the number of currently underrepresented groups within the construction sector, as well as retain those already within it. Mentors have been taken from all sectors of the industry that feel passionate about construction and who are able to offer a real-world and positive personal perspective on the geotechnical sector.

Working with experienced ground engineering representatives such as Ebenezer Adenmosun, director of Geofirma and an active mentor of engineers, typical mentees were identified as students at university that have expressed an interest in the sector; early career persons, such as graduates looking to get chartered but lack the necessary guidance and support within their organisations; experienced persons who would benefit from a little encouragement to re-capture their interest; and site operatives looking for more general support.

In November 2020, more than 60 Mentees and Mentors met virtually to kick off the GF scheme. This was extremely successful at connecting the first ‘batch’ of students, from a broad range of Universities with ground engineering industry professionals. Universities that have signed up so far include Portsmouth, Loughborough, Bradford, Leeds, Brunel, Hertfordshire and Bath. Students have included those studying Batchelors qualifications in Civil Engineering, Geology, Structural Engineering and Geotechnical Engineering, from 1st year to postgraduates.

This is just the start of the initiative, with the aim of the programme having multiple threads and looking to engage with a wider spread of mentees in the longer term. The first step was designed to enable students to feel confident in their career choices, strengthen their employability skills and enabling them to be connected to a network of future drivers for change. Importantly, it will also help mentees find their part in multidisciplinary teams at project, programme, and portfolio levels, which is essential if they are to establish themselves within the industry.

Mentees will also be able to undertake work experience during their studies, which will give them a flavour of real-world working and integrates well into the whole mentoring concept. With the support of many companies, the work experience opportunities will take place in the Spring.

Mentees had their first meetings with their mentors before Christmas, where they established a framework and programme going forward, with planned feedback shaping the direction of the scheme. A feedback session from the mentors has led to them revealing some really positive stories, including how the mentors have enjoyed the experience of coaching the students.

Future initiatives that are being enabled include:
• Setting up an online group to share information, such as relevant CPD events, with the mentees.
• Using the extended network of the group to provide work experience opportunities.
• Arranging site visits, interviews and CV workshops.

Significant funding and offers of continued financial support have already been made from members of the Ground Forum including FPS, AGS, BDA, BGA and the PJA. These organisations will also be involved in the network of support and promotion of the scheme.

Although it is still early days in the scheme’s running, it is encouraging to note that it has been heavily oversubscribed, which supports the theory that there is plenty of interest in the sector. The mentors have the significant challenge ahead of them of supporting the enthusiasm that the scheme has generated, a task that they are glad to step up to. Other representative bodies have also expressed their interest in following Ground Forum’s lead in setting up similar schemes.


Better Risk Management in Ground Engineering

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Article provided by Phil Hines, Federation of Piling Specialists

Almost all construction experts agree that the greatest risk to a construction project is ground conditions and in particular, when ground conditions are different to those expected. Equally most people agree that employing computers to analyse vast amounts of data and present it in a user-friendly way is far more effective than having humans reading reams of data, transposing data into different formats such as excel and producing 2-D plots from which to produce designs etc. So why is it that Federation of Piling Specialist (FPS) members in a recent survey responded that they still receive 96% of the site investigation (SI) data and information, on which they have to base their advice, solutions and pricing, as pdf documents?

The first and obvious thought might be that it is because digital data does not exist? Wrong! The Association of Geotechnical Specialists (AGS) launched the common data transfer format for site investigation data in 1991, which is almost 30 years ago! This was well before BIM or Common Data Environment had become commonly known digital terms in the construction industry. The AGS are currently leading a cross industry working group that are looking at better ways to procure, specify and distribute SI information including the use of AGS data.  So, the SI contractors are producing the digital data needed to make the optimal interpretation of the conditions, but the FPS specialist contractors are not receiving it. This begs the question – where is it?

All around us we hear about the power of digital data, yet construction is painfully slow in adapting. The government’s challenge to the industry becoming BIM level 2 compliant caused a scare for a while and got people interested in the topic but has it really changed the way we work. On many construction projects there are teams of architects and consulting engineers pouring over project models but how many of them include the AGS format soil information and why is it not shared with the specialist contractors?

The specialist contractors can help the client better manage the risk in the ground developing innovative solutions, but these can only be fully optimised by having the best possible understanding of the ground conditions. Having the data will also help us specialists more accurately assess the ground conditions and their effects on methodology, production rates etc., reducing risk priced into projects. Having a common understanding of the ground conditions will also help in reducing conflict when things are different because the base assumptions will be more clearly established. But there is a word of caution just because we use the digital information does not mean that the actual ground conditions will not vary on occasions because that is the beauty of geotechnics!

So next time you receive a SI report please ask where the AGS format data is held and how you can transmit it (or give access to it) to the specialist contractor members of the FPS along with that tender enquiry! Please do not wait to be asked for it – we often only get one to two weeks to price a project and we need this information at the start not halfway through the tender period. Then working together, we can better manage the risk in ground engineering for the benefit of all.


Q&A with Steve Hadley

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Name: Steve Hadley

Job title: Managing Director and Chair of the Federation of Piling Specialists

Company: Central Piling and the Federation of Piling Specialists

At university I had an industrial placement year working in both a contracting and consulting role. Post-graduation, I settled on an amalgamation of the two with a design and build geotechnical contractor, Rock and Alluvium. I managed to gain a lot of experience in quite a short space of time due to the rapid expansion of the business at that time. Fortunately, the company placed a great deal of faith in my burgeoning ability and I was able to increase my management responsibilities along with my technical skills. I spent seven years there in a large variety of roles and became a Chartered Engineer at the earliest opportunity.

My big break came when an opportunity came up to take over the business at Central Piling and I negotiated the purchase of the business. Since then my responsibilities have leaned more towards business improvement and commercial areas, but obviously as Managing Director, I oversee all aspects of our work.

Who or what inspired you to join the piling industry? 
My personal tutor at Loughborough University was a geotechnics lecturer called Paul Fleming. I really connected with him and that helped me understand the subject, which in turn encouraged me to pursue it as a career. I’m still great friends with him.

What does a typical day entail? 
I wake up at 6am and start the day with yoga, followed by a big breakfast. I start work at 8am and first plan my day and respond to any urgent emails. I then generally spend a couple of hours with  more creative work such as writing blogs or marketing plans. I’ll then get out for a run and have a quick bite to eat before sitting down with my Estimating Director and Technical Manager to review high value and complex schemes. I’ll then join the contracts team to review production and any HSQE or HR issues that have arisen during the day.

Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud to be a part of? 
We completed a scheme for Galliard Homes called Harbour Central a few years ago. This was a complex deep basement and 45 storey tower. We used some sophisticated design techniques to understand the soil and structure interaction. We delivered the job significantly under budget and ahead of programme. Everyone pulled together and we had a great relationship with the client and consultant teams from Meinhardt and CGL.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role? 
There are times when I have to have difficult conversations with people about performance. This is a crucial part of the role so they understand the expectations that I and the company has. Similarly, I can get feedback if there’s something that the business can do to assist them. Ultimately it does make the process of severing the relationship easier if you’ve done everything to engage along the way.

When did you join the FPS and why? 
I’ve been involved with the FPS since my early days at Rock & Alluvium where I sat on the Technical Committee. Central Piling joined around eight years ago. At the time, I saw it as an opportunity to help improve the business and provide a benchmark against other contractors. Since then as the company has matured and I see our participation more about playing a part in improving the lives of people working in the industry.

As Chair of the FPS, what does your role involve? 
As well as the administrative side of the role, I’m the figurehead and responsible along with the rest of the Executive Committee for agreeing lots of the initiatives that the FPS undertakes. I’ll stay closely involved with many of those through their evolution.

What are your ambitions for the Federation of Piling Specialists over the next two year? 
I’m particularly keen to ensure that the FPS messages resonate with more people, so I’m working hard to ensure that we look at alternative methods of outreach such as the blogs, podcasts and the webinar series that we’ve launched. My passion for wellbeing and equality is quite well established so they will be very prominent themes during my tenure. Nevertheless, the traditional FPS priorities such as site safety and commercial good practice will still be an integral part of FPS activity.

Why do you feel the FPS is important to the industry? 
As a collective representing approximately 80% of the industry by turnover, we have a very strong influence when producing statements on sector issues. The various committees also contain the best minds within the industry in their respective fields and the FPS provides a forum in which they can work together to produce best practice guidance.

What changes would you like to see implemented within the geotechnical industry? 
We need to make the industry more inclusive. There are practical ways to do this which the FPS is actively pursuing such as the mentoring scheme, internships and networking opportunities. Improving occupational health will also be beneficial in addressing the lack of gender and BAME diversity but it is important to everyone.

How do you feel COVID-19 has affected the construction industry and what can be done so the industry can make a full recovery? 
It’s been a challenging period in many different ways. Friends of mine have struggled with the isolation and the uncertainty that has developed. The industry has adapted well and ultimately the work will return to normal levels. The financial support from the government and ultimately the guidance via Build UK have also been welcomed. Changes to some of our working practices have additionally provided an indicator of how we can work more sustainably in the future.