After a challenging few years, South Africa’s construction sector is gradually getting back on its feet, which is good news for the nation’s civil engineering businesses. The big hope is that the Government can find the means to unlock the potential for a swathe of much-needed infrastructure projects by releasing funds.
So says Justin Spreckley, COO at Civils 2000, the Cape Town based Civil Engineering Construction Company with a strong reputation for delivering quality projects on time and within budget.
“Competition has increased in recent years followed by a downturn post-World Cup. The crucial factor to the recovery is the Government’s ability to put out work and effectively spend money on infrastructure projects,” he states.
That is an important element for Civils 2000, a business that was formed around 20 years ago by Rob Starke and Colin Shapiro as a civil engineering company with a focus on the Cape Town area. At present around 60 per cent of the company’s projects are derived from public works, with the remaining 40 per cent from private sector work.
Today the company has significantly grown, broadening its capabilities to become a market leader in South Africa, as Spreckley outlines:
“Our growth has very much been organic – not through acquisitions. I would attribute our success to energy, ability and up-skilling of staff as well as the purchase of new equipment,” he suggests.
“Today we are a CE9 civil contractor company – the highest grading you can get, which means we can tender for all types and value of civil contracts. Civils 2000 is qualified to construct: roads, bridges, wastewater treatment works, reservoirs, residential projects, civil engineering site services, pipelines, bridges and bulk earthworks.
“We operate 2 businesses effectively: Civils 2000 and Road Smart and we have the capabilities to undertake turn key projects, providing design and construction services – and whilst we do not have in-house designers, we can call upon a pool of highly accomplished consultancy partners for that aspect,” he continues.
Training plays a key role in maintaining the company’s competitive edge in such a competitive market and is tailored to the needs of each project:
“We have over 800 employees plus sub-contractors and lots of the training we undertake is contract and task-based in nature, with teaching around a particular skill such as brick-laying. We also do a fair amount of supervisory and management training,” Spreckley explains.
Equally important to the company is the role of partnership, which Spreckley says can take place in several ways:
“Our suppliers, designers and joint venture partners are an integral part of our success,” he emphasises, “so we like to build relationships. We don’t necessarily want to be the be all and end all when it comes to service offerings – we would rather ensure that what we do, we do well – and where we can’t do something, we partner with people who can.
“Scaling up projects is another important area where our relationships give us added capabilities. Through partnerships we can scale service offerings up should we need to, bringing in contractors and suppliers” he adds. “One of our strongest assets is that we are multidisciplinary and relatively nimble and our partners contribute to that ability.”
Civils 2000 has become a name synonymous with major projects and was heavily involved in the construction side of the Cape Town Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system; many of the larger gated residential estates such as Stonehurst Mountain Estate as well as the Napier Bus Terminal project. They were also responsible for completing the De Rust road project while in recent times the company has become involved in renewable energy work.
Last November the Government approved an additional 17 renewable energy projects, paving the way for a further R33.8-billion worth of investment that will eventually add up to 1,470 megawatts (MW) of clean energy to South Africa’s national grid.
“Civils 2000 is involved in 3 of these projects, including the massive Sere Wind Farm project in Vredendal, which will sit on a 16 square kilometre Skaapvlei farm in Koekenaap.
“The big difference with renewable energy projects is that they require design and construct capabilities – and with that there is always lots of risk. We took on the role of client and contractor and we had to design something that was effective for the client but also cost-effective for us,” recalls Speckley.
Operationally there is great emphasis on efficiency and Civils 2000 uses a software package called Buils Smart, which integrates all accounting and procurement. As COO, Spreckley has to keep an eye on as many as 16 to 25 different projects at any one time, so having integrated software is an important consideration.
“Each project comes with comprehensive quality specs and has to meet stringent health and safety and quality processes,” he says.
“Our plant and equipment is of course of vital importance for each project and we have our own extensive workshop and service department for plant renewal. As the company continues to grow, we are obliged to ensure we have suitable equipment and our intention is to own rather than hire,” he comments.
Civils 2000 has come a long way from its humble beginnings and has truly established itself as a national business. The next step will be to broaden the company’s footprint beyond South Africa’s borders, although Spreckley says there remains enormous potential within the nation:
“We have had lots of enquiries to enter new markets although none have come to fruition yet – but we remain open to the idea of entering new territories.
“I do believe that there is a significant amount of infrastructure work still required within South Africa, provided the Government can release the revenue that they have discussed for these projects.
“Civils 2000 faces a bright future and has a solid foundation in which to grow geographically and in terms of market diversity. Within the country there is ageing infrastructure and massive demand, so there is lots of opportunities for civil infrastructure construction company’s within South Africa,” he surmises.