Gearing Up To Grow through Innovation and Collaboration

The construction industry contributes £90billion a year to the UK economy (6.7% of the total) and is set to grow by 5.6% over the next 5 years. As part of an ongoing project aimed at readying SMES to bid for major supply chain work Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, Norfolk County Council, New Anglia Growth Hub, and Vattenfall held a Gearing Up To Grow workshop in Swaffham on Wednesday 9th October. The half-day session gave delegates the tools and insights they might need to win such pieces of work.

First up was Saul Humphrey who covered a Tier 1 Construction Perspective, he gave an overview of the UK construction industry, the strategy in the region, minimum requirements for winning work from a Tier 1, the crisis facing the industry, and what the future looks like. Saul highlighted the major positive impact the construction industry has on the UK economy and the various ways it contributes. He gave delegates a number of tips for working with Tier 1s including checking out their individual requirements and coming up with an almost standardised approach to bidding for work. There are a number of factors threatening the industry from the housing crisis to climate change, Saul suggested that the responsibility for solving these lies with everyone involved in the sector. The skills shortage is also having an impact and he suggested a number of ways that companies could work with young people to get them interested and considering construction as a viable career path. His final point was that companies need to “modernise or die” and that the best thing companies can do is embrace change.

Next came Steve Grace from Adept Supply Chain Solutions who encouraged delegates to ensure business health by employing his tools.  He explained that a business cannot thrive unless it is built on the solid foundation of health and the same can be said for the supply chain, it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Customer satisfaction and meeting their expectations should be the main driver of business growth, to ensure this he said businesses should consider Quality, Cost, and Delivery to keep customers happy. As part of a business plan leaders should consider a growth plan that incorporates a culture of change management, which is constantly being measured and evolving. Steve then introduced a number of tools that can be used to measure growth and ensure waste is eliminated. Steve’s key message? Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash-flow is reality!

Focusing on skills we had Martin Frost from Norfolk County Council, who introduced the council’s ambitions for combatting the skills gap through: driving skills progression, providing agile response training, and equipping young people for success. He used Netmatters as a case study as they found it very difficult to recruit enough developers to support their business growth, to answer this they developed their own in-house programme which brought in inexperienced candidates and gave them the opportunity to gain skills on the job. A degree course gives students about 150 hours coding experience over 3 years, Netmatters’ programmes gave 850 in six months. Martin invited businesses to give their thoughts on what other support Norfolk County Council could provide to tackle their own skills needs.

For most businesses accessing funding is part of the growth process, Nigel Best from New Anglia Growth Hub took delegates through the various types of funding to consider in the penultimate session of the day. New Anglia Growth Hub has awarded £28million in grants since it started through a variety of grant schemes, they are also able to signpost to other organisations and funding streams that may be suitable for your business. Nigel also highlighted that “traditional” funding such as grants and via the bank are not the only options available to a business and that they should consider the option that works best for them.

Our final speaker was the excellent William Bridgman from Warren Services, a family owned engineering firm, who gave their story about embracing IT to help streamline processes and create efficiencies that previously did not exist. He explained how embracing IT and incorporating it into their existing processes increase efficiencies without resulting in job losses. One clear example of this was their accounts department which had just over 3 people in it previously, through the introduction of new systems they reduced this to 1 but instead of making people redundant they encouraged them to retrain. One of the team who used to be in accounts and had years of experience is a now a developer who looks after their system! It was a really interesting lesson in how IT can have a very positive impact on your business and by working with suppliers and customers you can actually encourage them to do the same thereby streamlining the entire supply chain.

There were some informative stories told throughout the day and lots for delegates to go away and think about around innovation and collaboration.  Every presenter had their own examples of when they themselves have had to innovate or collaborate with another company to thrive, showing that the way forward is to work together.

A big thank you to all our speakers: Saul Humphrey, Steve Grace, Martin Frost, Nigel Best, and William Bridgman for being with us. If you are interested in hearing about upcoming workshops please contact who can ensure you are informed.

All slides from the session can be found here.

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