Community Of Experts Paves Path To The Future
1 August 2016
With its ever-increasing portfolio of skills, Costain needs more and more experts to develop solutions to problems and bring new techniques to fruition.
Every six months, just such a group meets up to exchange ideas and combine their brainpower to come up with answers to technical challenges.
The Engineering Expertise Community (EEC) provides cross-fertilisation among experts from areas throughout the Company.
“Given that we are an engineering solutions business, the EEC brings together a network of the people who are the backroom team, the horsepower, the engine that sits underneath our ability to solve customer problems,” said Group Technical Director Bill Hewlett, who runs the EEC.
“We meet every six months. Of course, we do a lot outside those meetings but occasional face-to-face contact is very important for people. The conversations that occur over coffee or lunch, or in the corridors, are as important as any other part of the meetings.
“It’s wonderful to widen that engagement between people.”
Creating this network of specialists brings real benefits: “People bring their particular problems or things they’ve learned to the meetings. For example, some of the guys in the Water sector in Severn Trent Water were working on some issues with GRP tanks. They knew immediately there was a group on the Greater Manchester waste management contract who had had solved something like this, so they could make contact very quickly.”
To help this process, a database listing individuals’ expertise is maintained and constantly refreshed, said Bill.
There are around 100 staff members in the EEC and 50-60 typically attend the bi-annual meetings.
The last such meeting took place in July at chemical giant BASF’s Cheadle UK research base. BASF is an important member of Costain’s supply chain and hosted a two-day event. They were joined in Cheadle by a select group of Costain’s supply chain partners, noted for their innovation and value-add to the industry.
The first day looked specifically at concrete technology, in which BASF is deeply involved, with the EEC’s own meeting taking place on the second.
“An important theme for us was: ‘What does it mean to a business to be research-led?’” said Bill. “This has been BASF’s bread-and-butter for their own 151 years of history, so learning from their expertise makes sense. Then if you look at our acquisition of Simulation Systems Ltd., (SSL) that’s a company that’s very much research and development-led, which underlines the direction of travel at Costain. We were delighted that eight members of the SSL team were able to join us on the day and tell us about their work.”
It is a very different world from the traditional construction and engineering sector. It means making budgets available for research and development – sometimes speculatively – “and only sometimes do you develop a solution that you can then market; it needs real insight.
“At the gathering, Oliver Teall led a presentation presenting the 11 PhD students employed by Costain, presenting their ideas on how they saw what they do and the future, and how the deeply-embedded expertise we have across Costain is vital to that.”
By supporting them through their studies Costain is both helping them develop their careers and developing the Company itself, said Bill.
Costain Communications Department