David Fry is a glass half full type of person and he is hoping that this positive outlook will help him in his new role with the Construction Employers Federation (CEF).
Appointed as the CEF’s new Federation Manager in July, David will work closely with the various committees within the organisation and then take these views forward to various sectors of the Public Sector. This will include working closely with the Central Procurement Directorate, COPEs, elected representatives and Ministers – all with the aim of ensuring that the views of the construction sector are recognised.
A politics graduate, David worked in political and policy roles at both Westminster and Stormont before taking up a policy and lobbying role with the Royal College of GPs and, more recently, as a Senior Policy Advisor with the CBI.
It was during this work that he first became interested in the construction sector.
“I was involved in an infrastructure committee with the CBI and got to know some of those representing local construction companies. That has given me a superb insight into the vital role that the construction sector plays in every aspect of our local life.”
From the long-term importance of developing skills within the industry to the short-term goals of adapting the procurement process for local projects, David has a lot to get his teeth into.
“Apprenticeships are critical to the long-term viability of the construction industry, and the recent change to an employer-led format is significant,” David said. “A lot of skilled individuals left the industry during the economic downturn and we are also struggling to deliver enough new apprentices, so the fears of skills shortages are very real.
“Furthermore, the industry wants to see the procurement process not only becoming as transparent as possible but also faster. The time between the initial announcement of a Public Sector project and work actually starting on the ground continues to take too long and this needs to be addressed.
“However, the CEF is a problem-solving organisation and we must be a critical friend of the Public Sector. We don’t believe in simply pointing out flaws – instead we will work with our members to offer the CPD, COPEs and elected representatives alternatives and new options that will help everyone.”
Confidence isn’t generally a word that is used in connection to the construction sector in Northern Ireland at present, but it is a word that continually punctuates David’s views.
“We need to focus on the positives and find solutions to the negatives. The construction industry has a lot to be positive about and is playing a vital role in revitalising Northern Ireland plc. If you look at the success of our companies in Great Britain it proves the high standards that we can achieve. The challenge now is how we can start delivering these same high level projects back here in the province.
“When you look to the future and the possibility of a reduction in corporation tax, again this is where the construction sector can play a significant role. Cutting corporation tax is not a silver bullet to all our economic woes, but it is a step in the right direct. However, this must be delivered in conjunction with an investment in our local infrastructure which will fill the obvious gaps we have in the road and rail network.
“We will also need new offices, new factories, new buildings, and alongside this there will be need to add new facilities in our towns and cities. The construction industry is vital to all of this and plays a central role in the local economy.
“Overall, it boosts confidence levels across Northern Ireland. Those in education can see a vibrant construction sector and envisage this as a viable and exciting career. Businesses see that their town or city is being invested in, so are more likely to follow suit, while possible investors will see Northern Ireland as a more attractive proposition. But we have to build that confidence and I’m looking forward to working alongside our members to create this.”
As well as having the opportunity to listen to the views of CEF members and work with them, David is also looking ahead to the next Assembly elections, which are likely to happen by next May.
“The Federation wants to have an influence on the next Programme for Government and we will be launching our construction manifesto ahead of the next elections and highlighting how every party needs to recognise the importance of a healthy and vibrant construction sector to our economy.
“It is important that we think long-term, so the hard work starts now. I’m looking forward to the challenge and to working with our members.”
For more information on the CEF, telephone 028 9087 7143 or visit www.cefni.co.uk