“It’s time to embrace the changing society”. With these words CECE President Alexandre Marchetta opened the 2023 CECE Congress. Under the title “Embracing a changing society: Diversity in construction”, the CECE Congress allowed the European construction equipment industry to tackle fundamental, yet uncharted themes of inclusion, cultural and inter-generational differences and gender rebalancing.
The current challenges faced by the construction sector when it comes to workforce and talent are enormous and potentially disruptive: with over 13 million people employed, the workers’ average age is extremely high, considering that 50% of the working population is expected to retire by the end of this decade and the over-60 being the fastest growing age-group in the industry. 92% of the workers are men, but it is estimated that women only cover between 1 and 2% of the manual tasks on jobsites. It is estimated that only 10% of the workforce in construction in Europe is 25 years old or younger.
A series of international speakers and innovators, moderated by CECE Secretary General Riccardo Viaggi, delivered thought-provoking and inspiring keynotes, challenging the audience to consider and implement forward-looking management solutions which are necessary in today’s economy to lead successful businesses.
Doctor in business administration and professional coach Frank Rouault presented an overview of the challenges posed by intercultural differences in international business and provided tips on how to turn them into recipes for success. He recommended business expats to never impose one’s culture on others and avoid stereotyping. He concluded his keynote with an impactful statement:
“Diversity is when everybody is invited to the picnic, inclusion happens when everybody is engaged
into bringing and sharing their specialty”.
Engagement of new generations
International human resources manager Benjamin Chaminade followed with a focus on the younger generations. In general, these are difficult talents to be attracted and retained in today’s business world, but few tips and paradigm shifts were suggested during the keynote. First, Benjamin urged leaders and recruiters to start treating applicants as their most revered clients, focusing on the shared values as a company, instead of what the company needs from an employee. The clue word is engagement, which becomes the key to attractivity and that demands a business leader who always shows his or her face.
‘Leadership in altitude’
Araceli Segarra, first Spanish woman to climb Everest and an experienced TEDx speaker, outlined how to ‘lead in altitude’, where the paradigm shift begins. Araceli left the audience inspired to look at the role of leaders from the bottom-up approach. She shared her personal experience involving tragedy in a life-saving mission on Everest, in which she learned that good leaders know that a project can only be successful if it involves a diverse team:
“I’ve been told that I might not be the best mountain climber in the world, but I am
the smartest mountain climber for this project”.
She concluded by highlighting that it is crucial for good leaders to realise that diversity and inclusion are success factors.
Diversity and education in technology and construction
In the afternoon, an all-female panel with four professional figures in the area of construction, debated how to even the gender imbalance in construction. The panellists were Ilektra Papadaki, Team Leader for construction policy at the European Commission, Karin Nars, CEO and co-owner of Dinolift, a Finnish manufacturer of aerial work-platforms, Laetitia le Sciellour, Project Manager at Mecalac and Laurence Delplace, head of operations for France and Belgium at Amberg Engineering, a leading tunnelling contractor. By sharing their personal and professional experiences, the panel addressed the concerns and the pain-points of a slow process towards including more women in construction. The discussion highlighted the role of unconscious bias, which came up in the morning session on cultural differences, and looked at business leaders’ role in creating a culture of diversity and inclusivity, most of all when it comes to the added-value of women’s soft-skills. The panel (and the audience) had diverging views on the potential use of positive discrimination and quotas, but agreed that many aspects of the daily life of construction companies should keep changing, from training to mentoring, from recruitment policies to career advancement, from corporate culture to leadership models.
There is no such thing as Artificial Intelligence
The Plenary Session’s closing speech was delivered by Luc Julia, co-creator of Siri and former VP for Innovation at Samsung. He came on stage to convince everybody that “there is no such thing as Artificial Intelligence” and he delivered several examples to support his provocative opening. He explained how all machine learning tools are designed by humans to enhance certain specific features for which a machine is designed. He said that if AI is the agreed acronym, it should spell out as Augmented Intelligence.
During its second day, the Congress looked at the current regulatory, economic and technological developments in the construction equipment industry. During the Economic Forum presentations and panel debates focussed on the current economic outlook, the fear of recession and the challenges posed by inflation and high interest rates for private investments in Europe and the US. Further, the potential of growth of the African continent was discussed most of all in light of the EU’s Global Gateway investment initiative. The Economic Forum was supported by global financing company DLL, which delivered a presentation on the need to tailor financial solutions to the energy transition.
The Technical Forum was devoted to the availability of alternative energy sources on the jobsites. Indeed, the energy transition has certainly initiated with the launch and commercialisation of hybrid, hydrogen and electric machines, the presentations made it clear that the most pressing challenge for machinery users and fleet owners is the regular supply of reasonably-priced alternative energies. To add to this debate, the newly produced CECE animation on the role of equipment in decarbonising construction activities was premiered – please watch it here. The Technical Forum was supported by TotalEnergies, which presented their current and future plans to deliver hydrogen to jobsites for construction machines.
Concluding the Congress, CECE President Alexandre Marchetta congratulated the speakers for their input, saying:
“I know today has not solved all the challenges in question, but I am confident this is a start in changing the paradigm by providing all of us with tools and thinking of where to start or how to continue”.
He finally invited all participants to save the date of Thursday 26th October 2023 for the CECE Summit in Brussels.
The first post-pandemic CECE Congress gathered 170 participants from 16 countries at the feet of Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France. The Main Sponsor of the CECE Congress 2023 was DLL. Further, the event was supported by Arden Equipment, Le Dig Tour, Montabert, Moog, Ritchie Bros. and Total Energies. Construction Europe was the official media partner of the Congress.