Building Barbados: The Construction Industry

In today’s volatile construction market, the ability to identify and cultivate productive and cost effective processes is critical for success and it is this that the construction industry has been focusing on in preparation for the challenging times ahead. There has been focus on innovation and efficiency as well as on joint ventures and creating […]

By Mark Maloney

August 1, 2009

In today’s volatile construction market, the ability to identify and cultivate productive and cost effective processes is critical for success and it is this that the construction industry has been focusing on in preparation for the challenging times ahead.

There has been focus on innovation and efficiency as well as on joint ventures and creating networks between Construction Professionals, Architects and Suppliers. During the last five years, the construction sector in Barbados has benefited from record global expansion and has enjoyed very high growth rates. This has also been driven by factors in recent times such as Cricket World Cup, which boosted construction related spending.
During this boom, the industry has benefited from significant exposure to the different methods of construction. Knowledge has been gained in numerous areas including design, project management, construction techniques, new materials and improved skills for its artisans. Government funded projects such as The Hilton, The Grantley Adams International Airport Expansion, The New Correctional Facility and the expansion of Kensington Oval have afforded local construction companies the opportunity of improving their ability to produce high quality work on tight time lines and budgets.

In addition to this, companies have used foresight to invest significant amounts of capital in plants and equipment and have sought to establish world-class facilities to produce the most technologically advanced building systems available to the region. The economy has in turn derived benefits from this modernization as projects have been completed in a fraction of the time comparative to that when employing conventional building methods. This has allowed for an increase in the number of projects that have been undertaken on an annual basis and has further facilitated investors receiving quicker returns on their investments, subsequently increasing the foreign exchange earnings for the country, not to mention the increase in employment.

Whether you are a Real Estate Developer, Contractor or Manufacturer of building systems or products, you are in a tough market. Competition is brutal and becoming more so every day. Being ever vigilant of your competitors while streamlining your business to ensure its profitability is becoming more challenging than ever. The cost of raw materials has increased to unprecedented levels and the industry has to look at ways of becoming more efficient or possibly be faced with a decline in opportunities. This increase and the ever competitive global environment for the products and services that we offer, coupled with the need to discover ways to sustain the growth to which the building industry is accustomed, is a major challenge and one with which the highly experienced and competent sector is now faced. This has brought about a different way of thinking as through the many diverse projects that have been undertaken, the industry has been able to gain tremendous exposure and build its plants and teams, thereby enabling construction companies to streamline their operations by evaluating their cost, becoming more efficient and effective at what they do and determining the opportunities to which their skills are best suited.

The winds of change are with us and the focus needs to be on technology and organizational innovation. This calls for more planning and communication among all participants but will however result in increased efficiency. We need to make working on the job site more efficient and also refine our logistics. Digital technology, computers and the Internet certainly lend themselves to addressing this higher demand for planning and relevant communication. Virtual reality, in my view, has only established itself in the construction industry within the past five years. Today the entire job site, including processes and organization, can be simulated on-screen. The model includes all Contractors and Sub-Contractors from all trades. Suppliers have also been integrated into building processes.

Construction companies, Architects, Engineers and Manufacturers of products or systems must think in a network and act as a unit. They have to create strategic partnerships. The clever ones have already started to co-operate beyond the project level at the organizational and strategic level. This is the way to create advantages for research and innovation. This concept of partnership and working together is one of the foundation stones of the construction industry. At every stage of a new project there is a need for co-operation. All parties involved need to collectively establish a goal and subsequently work to achieve it. They all need to understand their role in the project: when they are necessary, with whom they need to work and to what timescale. Integrated teams produce quality projects, to time, specification and cost. In construction, partnership gets results.

The Construction Industry in Barbados is very fortunate to be able to pride itself on being associated with the finest Architects, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and other professionals who oversee most of the projects from conception to completion. The standards and codes practiced by all of these are of the highest in the region and certainly can be compared with the best in the world as can be showcased in the many fine projects executed over the years. It would be remiss of me not to mention our responsible workforce. Our Artisans are amongst the best in the world and this is as a result of the country’s high educational standards. They have adapted to change quite well, with an understanding of the need to become more competent at what they do. You will find very high standards in our workforce that comprises persons who are very organized and focused on perfecting every aspect of their jobs. This requirement has also been recognized by the various trade unions that have also been responsible and supportive of a productive work environment.

Most companies have adopted Health and Safety Policies and are working to achieve results through the effective implementation and management of this aspect of their operations as this is a key component of the future. You will notice that most construction sites have minimum health and safety standards which must be adhered to. The structural performance of buildings in Barbados was recently put to the test when, although the island is not situated on the earthquake belt, we experienced the effects of an earthquake which registered level 6 on the Richter scale. Due to the high standard of engineering and construction methods used locally, there were very few reports of structural damage to buildings. Although this is not the test that one would want to use to guarantee their product, it is testimony to the fact that the buildings were highly engineered and well built.

One might ask, “Where is our future?” The answer is that our future is working on ways of gaining the experience and expertise that no other island in the region has at being able to build high quality modern products at competitive prices with tight timelines.

This will be done through value engineering of the various projects, which will be achieved through the expertise that has been gained by the construction professionals to create an effective solution for all design and building requirements at a price that Hoteliers and Developers can sell to their clients and get a reasonable return. Internationalization is yet another area that needs focus. A few years ago, only a few Barbadian construction companies undertook overseas projects. Today, some of them are focusing much of their efforts on work abroad. They create joint ventures, locally with one partner and with another in the relative countries; this is how they gain the ideas and knowledge that help master complex projects and boost efficiency. By acquiring knowledge internationally and using it locally, they set themselves ahead of the competition.

The clients themselves are moving away from concentrating solely on price and tendering to placing a stronger emphasis on the value that they get for their money. This also has to be reflected in the market of affordable housing where it is imperative that a cost effective approach is the only solution, as this market cannot absorb inefficiency. Barbados has been able to achieve the most effective and affordable housing solution in the region through Architects, Engineers, construction companies and Developers working together to create a product that suits the market’s needs.

Confidence in the industry has been recognized by the financial institutions as financing for plants and equipment has also been made readily available to companies that have shown the increase in efficiency that this brings. As a result, we have been able to attract some of the finest Developers from around the world and impress them with our ability. Through these experiences we can only become stronger and better at what we do as we continue to offer the very best of Barbadian building practices to face the challenging times that lie ahead.

The industry has reacted positively to change and in so doing has put itself in a strong position to deal with the high expectations which this change warrants as the economy will rely heavily on what it can offer at all levels.

This is a great industry, a historic industry, but also a modern and progressive industry. It has quite literally, built Barbados. This industry will build the Barbados of tomorrow.

Mark Maloney

Managing Director, Preconco Limited