Construction, Engineering and Transportation

October 28th, 2022


Construction Potential

We see it as a big opportunity; supporting the capacity building in those countries that have not experienced the level of construction that we have experienced.

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Glenn Mahabirsingh - President Contractors Association

Glenn Mahabirsingh
President, Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association (TTCA)

The industry has not been immune to the ongoing effects of the pandemic and latterly, the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The difference, however, is that construction represents a critical sector of the country and as the road to recovery continues, that importance is encapsulated in the words of President of the Trinidad & Tobago Contractors Association (TTCA), Glenn Mahabirsingh, “Construction is the only industry capable of creating a significant amount of employment in a very short space of time.”

Delays in shipping, swings in prices of materials and supply issues are but some of the challenges that the sector has had to endure since its reopening in July 2021. Mahabirsingh provides a window into the direct effect upon contractors even before the soil is turned, stating “We have seen a rapid increase in prices of materials making it difficult to respond to tenders because most suppliers give their validity for a period of seven days but now the volatility of prices makes the tender process a significant risk item as contractors are being asked to hold their tender price for up to 90 days.”

The TTCA is trying to mitigate the issue, explaining that they are lobbying for clients to include in their contract an allowance to treat with material price fluctuation, “That provision would bring a fair resolution if there were price changes to materials. It would be fair to the client as well as the contractor, not leaving any party out of pocket.”

The world is playing catch-up after the lockdowns. Mahabirsingh notes that this is the other main challenge to overcome. “It is now necessary to have a significant amount of effort into planning because there is also the constraint in terms of space availability in shipping materials.

So together, it’s product availability, pricing volatility and shipping availability.”

Fortunately for the industry, materials that are produced locally – such as cement and aggregate – are in good supply but even within that, there are still external threats, as the TTCA head elaborates, “The machinery, plants and equipment to produce them locally are foreign items. Spare or replacement parts, in the event of a plant breakdown, must be imported at short notice, which comes back to the availability issue.”

The subject of imports leads to consideration of the foreign exchange matter, namely how contractors can generate forex for the T&T economy. The answer lies in expertise. “The construction industry in Trinidad is a mature industry. There are a lot of plants and equipment, plus we have a huge skill set in terms of management and technical capacity. This has arisen over the last fifty-plus years with the booms that we have experienced. We must allow the industry to earn foreign exchange by providing services for other CARICOM countries,” says Mahabirsingh.

“We see it as a big opportunity; supporting the capacity building in those countries that have not experienced the level of construction that we have experienced.” He notes that construction of major highways, bridges, high-rise buildings and mass housing is the particular skill set needed abroad and that T&T has in abundance. “A lot of our members already ventured into Guyana, Grenada and St Vincent but over the last year we have seen more members, who had not traditionally ventured into those territories, now going outside of T&T, which is definitely a positive.”

To support that export and to ensure the growth of the sector towards 2023 and beyond, the construction industry knows that there is some reliance on public sector support. Mahabirsingh explains, “One of the areas that the Association, private and government sectors can collaborate on is with training and development, developing a skilled workforce. Carpenters, masons, welders and other trade workers are critical because everything in the industry has to be bolted, fastened, or welded together. There is always the opportunity for Government to ensure that there are adequate training programmes to support the future of the industry.”

The ongoing procurement legislation matter is seen as vital for the industry and all stakeholders. “One of the provisions in the legislation is for State enterprises to publish their intended procurement plan for the next year. That data will help contractors understand what projects are in the pipeline, how to plan in terms of staffing and resources, and what to respond to, so that large contractors would target large projects, medium-sized contractors would target medium-sized projects. You won’t have large contractors operating in the small contractors’ areas.” It would lead to greater efficiency and focus. “Contractors will know which areas they want to respond to and create a higher level of strategic planning for the industry.”

For the immediate future, Maharbirsingh believes the importance of construction to the economy and its ability to create offshoot industries has created the necessary opportunities “State enterprises have a series of projects planned to support the industry, we note the relevant activity – notwithstanding the challenges – and know that we have the capacity to match it.”


Engineering Initiatives for The Future

Eng. Dr. Chris Maharaj, President, Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT)

Eng. Dr. Chris Maharaj
President, Association of Professional
Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT)

Like all sectors, engineering is striking that balance of pursuing its full reopening while embracing new methodologies and markets made necessary by the global impact of Covid-19 and the trickledown effects of war in Europe.

President of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) Eng. Dr. Chris Maharaj alluded to the trials of coping with the global issues affecting local sectors. “In this post-Covid-19 period along with the Russo-Ukrainian War, challenges still exist such as supply chain concerns leading to shortages with concomitant price increases. The hope is that existing businesses will adapt to these changes to maintain their customer base. During trying times such as these, I also expect to see innovation in businesses and the creation of new products and services in response to the aforementioned challenges.”

This crucial pillar of society has not been immune to the loss of contracts and jobs during the pandemic, but there is scope to help expedite recovery for the sector – and by extension, recovery for the wider economy – by collaboration with all stakeholders and ably tapping into financial resources that still exist despite the trying times. Maharaj confirms this, “I would recommend that business, industry, academia, and Government work together to determine the ways forward that the business community, having the liquidity, can invest sustainably in the country. Policies are needed to achieve this.”

Indeed, APETT has taken the initiative of this philosophy by partnering with the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) to conduct a series of webinars designed to identify the areas in a post-lockdown society that present opportunities for engineering and expand them to the wider regional market. The webinars will actively explore areas such as recycling and renewable energy, that have not been made a priority in the past but are now of greater global concern and can be addressed through the overall engineering ethos of problem-solving. The joint brainstorming exercise echoes this with its stated intention: ‘Engineering challenges exist in the world because the solutions are difficult and often arise through an innovation-oriented approach.’

One of APETT’s first roles here was to identify local requirements and shortfalls post-pandemic, within the engineering parameters of maintenance, management, mitigation, standards, and development. Through surveys of the experts (i.e. APETT members) the aim is to bolster local engineering with a view to exporting T&T’s chemical, civil, mechanical and electrical expertise to the Caribbean. In addition to job creation, it will also satisfy the ongoing quest of generating foreign exchange earnings.

Maharaj’s outlook for the industry in the coming year is embedded in this type of cohesion between public and private entities. “The most significant initiatives and projects to be undertaken are those to manage a post-Covid world along with supply chain price increases. For governments, it will be the ability to manage the limited resources and redistribute some of the resources intelligently to low-income communities. I remain optimistic that the country and our people are resilient.”

Article by: Sheldon Waithe

Sheldon Waithe