A new generation of commercial managers

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

To ensure the UK rail sector’s growth is sustainable for the long term, we need to take this opportunity to develop a new generation of professionally qualified commercial managers, writes Jim McCluskey, senior commercial manager for VINCI Construction UK Limited’s civil engineering and rail division, Taylor Woodrow Construction. McCluskey is also a member and fellow of RICS, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The word ‘infrastructure’ is often an intangible one. Though people hear and read the term frequently, little is known about the goings-on behind the scenes. Who are the people that deliver these major projects? We see their end results, but how are these achieved – and why? Infrastructure, put simply, is about connecting people and improving lives. But it’s the people behind it I’m writing about today. 

Having worked in the industry for over 30 years, I have seen the rise and growth of infrastructure over time. Eventually progressing to specialise in railways, I have worked on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at St Pancras Station (now High Speed 1), the construction of Thameslink Box and the East London Line Extension project for London Overground. Taylor Woodrow/Vinci have substantial rail experience, including the upgrade of King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station, the Docklands Light Railway 3 extension project and the Jubilee Line extension at London Bridge. I believe, reflecting on these and current developments, it is safe to say that this is one of the golden ages of UK rail infrastructure, particularly with HS2 and Crossrail 2 on the radar. 

Certainly, all of these projects are great news for the country’s transport system. I am currently working on the multi-million pound upgrade of London Underground’s Victoria station. I am responsible for the commercial management of this significant contract, which aims to upgrade ticket halls, increase capacity and reduce congestion. 

But commercial management goes beyond these precise tasks. The commercial manager of today is responsible for each and all commercial aspects of a project. Together with project managers, they are at the heart of all major infrastructure schemes – managing commercial processes and contract requirements to ensure a successful delivery. 

In actuality, the term ‘commercial manager’ is a relatively recent one used to describe the job we do. Before this, the titles of project QS or managing surveyor were more common. These still exist in a number of businesses of course, but the commercial manager role itself has developed specifically as a result of the recent boom in major projects.

It’s not just the transport sector that is seeing a new wave of opportunity. Infrastructure as a whole is growing across the country, with billions to be spent on schools and road upgrades. 

As a result, there is a huge opportunity to recruit and train a new generation of commercial managers. 

First and foremost, it must be made known that these opportunities are out there. The industry must do more to promote the fantastic chances this sector has to offer. Without spreading the word far and wide, people exploring career options simply won’t be presenting themselves for jobs within infrastructure. 

RICS, for example, has gone a long way to champion our profession and support newcomers to the industry. RICS is synonymous with outstanding professional standards and I believe the RICS accreditation underpins experience within the sector. 

More importantly, however, I can now use the skills gained through my RICS qualification to coach and mentor others through the process to successful accreditation. This, in turn, will help prepare them for bigger and more challenging jobs, which then helps the UK’s infrastructure thrive and prosper. 

Huge and significant contracts, such as those involved in rail infrastructure, require highly-skilled, passionate and qualified professionals to work on them. This is especially true when it comes to the role of the commercial manager. So, as the golden age of infrastructure continues, I’d urge everyone to recognise the important work that my colleagues in the sector deliver – and do all they can to bring through the next generation of commercial management talent.

Jim McCluskey FRICS

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


LJ Franklin   23/02/2016 at 14:10

One of the challenges with developing the industry capacity to support the wider industry growth is that the role of Commercial Manager is not the same out of rail. I have moved into rail after experience in IT, heavy manufacturing and outsourcing, where the role of Commercial Manager is more about initial contract negotiation and possible cost management; not ongoing contract management and commercial processes, and it very rarely connects to RICS. In order to support the infrastructure opportunity growth, this could be an attractive move for professionals from other industries. However, if transferable skills are to be best utilised, then maybe its not just about developing and encouraging existing rail people, but also making conversion courses / awareness courses available....

Chris   26/02/2016 at 19:33

Hmmm... Such people will know the Cost of Everything and the Value of Nothing? May Heaven Help Us All!

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