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NCE100 Company Profile

Costain’s success at the NCE100 Awards reflects a change in the company’s business strategy to deliver the future infrastructure solutions.

NCE100 Talent Champion, Costain

The inaugural NCE100 Awards saw Costain coming 8th overall and winning what some might see as two contrary categories: Talent Champion and Technical Excellence. In fact, says the company’s corporate development director Tim Bowen, the two are very much aligned: “An organisation is only as good as its people, so we are recruiting the very best people and training them – and ourselves – for the needs of the future.

“If you get the very best people, and allow them to think and be creative and innovative in a way that is aligned to thinking through the problems of our customers, the solutions they come up with are astounding,” he adds.

The Technical Excellence Award was for the company’s “Materials for Life” research into self-healing concrete, a project the judges said showed genuine innovation and a commitment to improving things for the good of the wider industry and society.

“This was very leading edge in terms of a technical solution,” says Bowen. “We are constantly challenging ourselves to make sure we’re recruiting the very best people in the industry and giving them their head with regard to the innovation arena.”

Among the reasons Costain won the Talent Champion award was its holistic approach to talent development. The judges were particularly impressed by the company’s commitment to apprentice, technician and graduate development, as well as the talent development process, succession planning and commitment to people returning after a career break.

Costain is continuing to invest on both fronts, says Bowen: “We are doing it in a number of ways. We have very targeted recruitment, which is focused as much on technologists and consultants as people who are capable of delivering infrastructure. And we are also making sure we have got the capability we need for the future.”

"We have very targeted recruitment, which is focused as much on technologists and consultants as people who are capable of delivering infrastructure"

Tim Bowen, Corporate Development Director

He adds: “The business has changed a lot over last two or three years. The pace of change in our marketplace is fast, and it is only going to increase if the UK is going to compete and thrive. We need modern infrastructure and more capacity, but the resources to do that are going to be more constrained, which means changing how we do that. Customers are going to acquire services in different ways so that they can drive out waste and benefit from economies of scale.”

Bowen says this is already happening, with more clients engaging with delivery partner organisations early in the process to make sure “we’ve got the right solution to the right problem”. And, he adds, “that solution is as likely to be technology-led as it is a built solution as would traditionally have been the case”.

He says the future of a company like Costain depends on having the capability to engage with the client at any stage – from working with it right at the beginning to ascertain the exact need, through crafting a solution that delivers the right benefits, into detailed design, programme management, construction, technology integration and operations and maintenance.

“I not only see a role for ourselves, but we are already doing it,” says Bowen. “We are already delivering services across each of these service lines; and increasingly we see that what customers will be doing will be blending that into one integrated offer. As a result, maintaining a broad range of capability – which affords our customers the opportunity to pick and mix – is fundamental.

” Costain has been preparing for this new world, by growing its capabilities so it can move away from the traditional contractor role to become a delivery partner and service integrator. Bowen highlights two recent acquisitions that reflect this change: consultancy group Rhead and digital technology specialist SSL. “Our plan is to build on these two acquisitions, and recruit around the core teams of people that came with them,” he explains.

Companies entering the NCE100 were all judged by the same criteria, whatever their role in the construction and delivery cycle, and Bowen welcomes this move away from labelling companies as consultants or contractors. He says, the industry – and particularly its major infrastructure clients – is already well on the way to rejecting this traditional approach.

“When you look at statements coming out of organisations like the Infrastructure Client Group they are very much more aligned to integrated service procurement,” he says. “As an industry we need to deliver more for less, and this is one way of achieving that.”

He says Costain increasingly finds itself competing as much with consultants and specialists as with traditional contractors. “We see ourselves as the service integrator, and at the forefront of thinking when it comes to creating future delivery models.

"We see ourselves as the service integrator, and at the forefront of thinking when it comes to creating future delivery models"

Tim Bowen, Corporate Development Director

This article was first published in New Civil Engineer