President’s Column; September 2022
At a recent BCSA meeting some members thought I was a little bit grumpy. Thinking about that after the meeting, with inflation running at 10% or more, energy prices going through the roof, the continued crisis in the Ukraine, a paralysed UK government and many other things we have to contend with on a daily basis, is anybody really surprised that people might be down in the dumps? Often though, when we start to feel sorry for ourselves, events happen to other poor souls that are so grave, that some of our day-to-day problems are not really that bad and it gives us the energy to keep going. Feeling over positive however, when conditions don’t warrant that, can also be detrimental sometimes. I refer to Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”, where he discusses the time that Admiral Jim Stockdale was a POW from 1965 to 1973 in Vietnam. Stockdale was confined in what can only be described as grim conditions. Stockdale discusses the “optimists” in the camp, the ones that thought they were going to get released by Christmas or Easter. Unfortunately, these milestone dates came and went, and they were all still incarcerated. One by one the “optimists” died of a broken heart. Stockdale was quoted as saying, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”, the message to his men being, “we’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!”
The message that I take out of the “Stockdale Paradox” is there are a lot of things we can’t control. Steel prices, availability of steel and energy prices are perhaps the most obvious. The BCSA and the larger BCSA steelwork contractors continue to hammer home the message that continued increases in the price of steel with no warning is detrimental for all parties in the long run. Despite this, the decision makers do not hear, or simply disregard the message and we all have to deal with the consequences. What the BCSA is doing at government level is making them aware that the “steel industry” is not just the steel mills, there are many more people working in the industry, designing, detailing, fabricating, treating and erecting the steel and many others in the supply chain.
One of those steel mills here in the UK, British Steel, has just published their “Low-Carbon Roadmap, A pocket guide, which details their decarbonisation targets and plan to achieve net-zero by 2050. Their plan seems to tick all of the boxes, but I see two potential problems. Firstly, they will need time to change, but clients want change immediately and are specifying EAF steel now in lieu of allowing the steelwork contractor to make the choice – even though we all know that if one customer specifies EAF, another customer will be getting BOS steel; the world is no better off as there simply is not enough EAF steel to go around. Secondly, it states, “All our targets are achievable but will need appropriate government policy and framework support to facilitate it.” Let’s hope for understanding, patience and support from both clients and government during their journey to net-zero.