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The changing face of plant hire

At the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) Annual General Meeting in October, Brian Jones was elected as President of the Association for the next five years.

Brian had served as Chairman for six years, and his new role will enable him to work alongside the new Chairman Steve Cormack, Chief Executive Colin Wood and the Council to shape and ensure the continuing success of the CPA.

At the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) Annual General Meeting in October, Brian Jones was elected as President of the Association

Brian Jones

Upon his appointment, Brian said: “CPA is the UK’s leading trade association in this sector, and my first task as President will be to help prepare the Association for the next phase in its development. Our Chief Executive Colin Wood has made a decision to step down from the position at the end of the first quarter of 2018, and we will begin the process of recruiting a new Chief Executive immediately. We intend to build on the excellent work that has been done by Colin and his team, and to continue to support our members and the plant hire sector to face the challenges that lie ahead.”

Established some 75 years ago, the CPA has over 1,600 members, with premises in the City of London, and a permanent staff of experienced employees. The Association is governed by a Council of Members, who represent plant hire companies of all types and sizes throughout the country.

The UK plant hire industry is the best established and most professional in the world, and is worth over £4Bn to the UK economy. The Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) is the leading trade association for this sector in the UK and CPA Members supply 85% of hired plant to the construction industry.

The CPA publishes a wide range of guidance documents for members, as well as advising on training, health and safety, and employment, lobbying government and associations, and supporting UK plant businesses.

We spoke to Brian about his ambitions for the Association and what he hopes to achieve during his time in charge.

What path led you to the CPA?

I began my career in 1970 in Plant Hire as a Hire Desk Clerk. My career spanned 40 years working for one company, Hewden Stuart plc, where I held a number of positions including National Sales Manager, Business Development Manager & Head of New Business. I now run my own consultancy business.

I was elected to the National Council of CPA back in 1990 and to the position of chair in 2011. I have also been involved with the European Plant Association.

What are you hoping to achieve in your role?

My initial role is to ensure that continuity and consistency are retained and the progress that the Association has made over the years is maintained, especially in producing Best Practice Guides which the whole of the industry looks to for excellence guidance. We will also be looking to replace our current CEO who, after a long time in our industry, has decided to step down in 2018.

What are the main problems facing your sector and how can the government/industry support you?

Our research shows employment is a key challenge for plant hire companies. Around 40% of CPA Members say recruitment is very difficult or fairly difficult. Around 25% have had hard-to-fill vacancies in the last year.

Problems include:

  • Construction is seen as unattractive: dirty, boring, male-dominated etc
  • Negative perceptions are also common amongst influencers – parents, teachers, careers advisers etc
  • Work in construction is seen as a job, not a career
  • Potential candidates are seen as not work-ready – they lack ability to practically apply what skills they have
  • Many employers don’t have the knowledge, confidence or resources to support an ‘improver’ / apprentice

There is an important role for CITB to take, to support development of recruitment programmes in each sector – including plant hire – that are tailored and relevant to the sector. This is important to get employers’ support.

CITB and industry need to work together to set up an entry, training and development pathway for new entrants. This includes support for employers to recruit and nurture entrants. There also needs to be support for contractors so that newcomers can gain work experience safely and effectively.

Government needs to reduce the administrative difficulties that employers face when they try to develop new apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships is seen as an impediment, not as a facilitator.

What are your views on Brexit for the industry? What can we do to mitigate these problems?

Brexit is creating economic uncertainty for the economy as a whole, and plant hire is no different. No direct intervention by plant hire companies or associated sectors is likely to change this.

However, other pressures on this sector can be mitigated – here are two examples:

  • Clients and contractors need to be realistic about demanding improved machine specifications, without allowing time for contract prices to reflect this, and for plant owners to justify the risk and/or investment. Clients should specify the desired outcome, and then allow plant hire companies and contractors to work together to find the most economical and productive way of achieving this. Plant hire companies have the expertise on machine specification, performance and economics so they should be the first point of reference for any discussion on change in outcomes
  • Manufacturers need to be willing to release engine diagnostic information and fault codes, to allow owners to assess the most economical route to repair and maintenance. Return to manufacturer can lead to high cost and loss of utilisation and is not technically necessary in many cases.

You must have seen great change over your time in the industry. What emerging technologies are being embraced and how do you see the industry changing?

The combination of GPS, drones and 3D mapping, BIM and machine control technologies is becoming increasingly mainstream – it can significantly reduce waste, and allow far greater efficiency of production.

Virtual reality and simulators have a role in candidate selection and training. But their usage will remain limited, as many of the behavioural characteristics required of plant operators and engineers are based around human interface and uncertainty.


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