First FIDIC COVID-19 webinar attracts 500 attendees

07 Apr 2020

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The first in FIDIC’s series of Covid-19 webinars, which took place on Tuesday 7 April, was an outstanding success with around 500 participants from around the world attending.

The webinar was aimed at FIDIC member associations (MAs) and their members to better understand how MAs and firms are responding to the current crisis and how they are adapting their activities going forward given the ramifications and implications of COVID-19.

Chaired by FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin, webinar speakers included John Gamble, president and CEO of ACEC Canada, Nicola Grayson, CEO, Consult Australia, FIDIC president Bill Howard, Maurizio Boi, vice-president of the Italian member association, OICE and Prashant Kapila, chief operating officer, Intercontinental Consultants & Technocrats, India. The speakers shared their experiences from across the world and offered help and guidance to member associations and firms facing the challenge of dealing with the current crisis.

The gravity of the COVID-19 crisis was laid bare by all the webinar speakers as they each outlined the situation in their respective countries, highlighting the current number of coronavirus cases and deaths. This was a sobering moment during the webinar and put the issues being discussed into perspective.

FIDIC president Bill Howard and CEO Nelson Ogunshakin opened the webinar by praising the FIDIC staff for arranging a large number of COVID-19 webinars in such a short period of time. FIDIC was doing its best to provide its members and the wider industry with as much relevant information as possible on the crisis and help the consultancy and engineering sector deal with the significant challenges it currently faces.

Kicking off the webinar, Nicola Grayson, CEO of Consult Australia (pictured above), highlighted the A$320bn package of measures from the Australian government that had been allocated to help firms and people through the crisis. This figure represented 16.34% of the country’s GDP and was an unprecedented stimulous package from the government, said Grayson. She reported that construction sites were still being kept open and also said that some public clients, such as the Defence department, were paying people within one day, which was a big boost to the construction sector. Supply chain payments were absolutely crucial in the current crisis, she said.

Consult Australia had brought together leaders from across its member firms to discuss the key issues they were facing and the industry had seen “a phenomenal period of government engagement” said Grayson who made the point that that the industry’s lobbying had paid off with some significant gains being made for the sector. It was more important than ever to provide high-quality content and advice to members at this time and members really needed their associations to stand up for them, Grayson said.

Next up was John Gamble, president and CEO of ACEC Canada, who gave an update on the situation in Canada and his association’s efforts to have engineering to be deemed an essential service. He also highlighted the importance of communications during the crisis, saying it was vital that member firms saw association’s advocacy taking place and the results of the engagement with government and business organisations. He said it was very helpful that future webinars would be looking at the issue of force majeure as this was clearly going to be an issue that was growing in importance.

Prashant Kapila, chief operating officer, Intercontinental Consultants & Technocrats reported on the situation in India and the challenges of a 21-day lockdown of a nation of 1.3 billion. He said that there was a particular challenge around migrant labour from two of India's bigger states where people have been forced to go back to their native areas, due to lack of job, employment and any money in the places where the were working, which was nearly the rest of 80% of the country. People moving back to rural India from their workplaces, due to no money or structure to protect them, is thus creating issues in terms of workforce availability and this is having an effect on the consultancy and construction sector. Kapila also said that the crisis had revealed that India did not have enough hospitals and it was likely that the construction sector would play a key role in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak as the country looked to upgrade its social infrastructure. While this was a positive, Kapila wondered what effect a move towards social infrastructure provision would have on large-scale infrastructure.

Maurizio Boi, vice-president of Italian FIDIC member association, OICE gave a sobering account of the current state of play in Italy, where there have been 130,000 coronavirus cases with 16,000 deaths. Italy had been at the forefront of the European fight against the virus and after more than a month working from home the consultancy sector had built up significant experience of how to adapt its engineering activities to the new environment caused by COVID-19, said Boi.

Smart, collaborative engineering was the order of the day he said and this was something that he called “a revolution for the benefit of humanity”. Smart collaboration was optimising research and information costs and also reducing the costs necessary to research, draft and manage contractual agreements by using smart contracts. Necessity had become the mother of invention during the COVID-19 crisis and had led to a ‘digital assembly line’ that was an extraordinary instrument to manage smart working, Boi said.

All the speakers agreed that the industry would never be the same as a result of the global crisis. FIDIC president Bill Howard made the point that there was an opportunity to finally convince clients that procurement systems were not fit for purpose, too unwieldy and long-winded. “This crisis has shown that you can have quality and efficient procurement in a short space of time,” said Howard. Concluding the webinar, Howard said that infrastructure investment impacted everything and the task going forward for member associations and FIDIC was to assist the industry in preparing quality documentation and advice that highlights the need for infrastructure investment.

There were well over 50 questions from webinar participants which led to further interesting discussions at the event. It was impossible to answer them all, especially those on contractual issues, so it’s very appropriate and convenient therefore that the next FIDIC webinar is on the very issue of contracts and dealing force majeure this coming Thursday, 9 April, at 12 noon CET.

Click here to book your place on that next FIDIC webinar on contracts and dealing with force majeure.

Please click below to view a recording of the webinar.

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