In Depth: Put in Hard Work and See the Results

In the dredging industry, there is no way around it: worldwide the Dutch are renowned for their dredging activities. Projects such as the Palm Islands in Dubai have struck the imagination of many. For our dredging special the Dutch Association of Dredging Contractors and CEDA, the Central Dredging Association, give us a look into this industry, how they assist their members and what the future will look like.

“The dredging industry is all around us”, states Fries Heinis, director of the Dutch Association of Dredging Contractors. “It is an ongoing business, and ranges from relatively simple projects to the dredging of our all-important ports. In 2011, the success of many dredging companies varied. We are after all navigating through an economic crisis. Yet I would not consider it a negative year. Our job as an association first and foremost means being of service to our members. What are their requirements and needs, and what can we do to fulfill these? One of the requirements our members have, is to exchange knowledge and as such we facilitate that.”

Johan Pennekamp, chairman of the Dutch section of CEDA, agrees with Heinis, as he explains that the Dutch dredging industry has fared well, in spite of the economic crisis. Pennekamp: “The dredging industry can survive on maintenance work that is required. Yet I know that there are many exiting and vast projects awaiting, that will boost the industry.” CEDA is an independent, international professional society for companies and individuals involved in any kind of activity related to dredging and marine construction. CEDA has around 150 corporate members and 600 individual members from 38 countries. The membership of CEDA is broad and includes dredging companies and port and water authorities, policy makers, regulators, consultants and stakeholder groups.

Promote worldwide

“We have around 150 members”, says Heinis. “From small suppliers to large dredging companies. Their customers range from private companies to public authorities, such as Dutch ports or the Department of Waterways and Public Works. There is plenty of work to be done in the Dutch industries. Ports will need to be dredged as well as canals for inland waterways. Next to that, we can offer our knowledge to developing countries. Our job is to monitor all these different elements worldwide and promote our members when we feel the time and work is right. Fortunately, most Dutch dredging companies are internationally active.”

Monitoring and representing the broad cluster of the dredging industry at international events is also a task of CEDA. CEDA tracks the latest developments in rules and regulations and translates these for the members. “I feel the most important part, one which many forget, is the possibility to exchange knowledge amongst each other”, states Pennekamp. “We organise meetings, seminars, dredging days and congresses. We invite speakers to discuss the latest topics of interest in the dredging industry and next to this, we offer our members plenty opportunity to speak to each other and advise each other. Networking is very important and in view of the diverse membership CEDA provides an invaluable platform for that.”

The Dutch Association of Dredging Contractors also sets up meetings for members to share best practices. Another important part of their job is human capital, not coincidentally also one of the four policy themes in the Topsector Water. Heinis: “As with most maritime industries we need more people to come and work in our industry. Professionals and recent graduates, all are welcome. We work together with schools, from primary to intermediate vocational training and higher vocational education. Looking to primary school children, they cannot yet be moulded to work in the maritime industry, but you can plant seeds and who knows how these may grow in the years to come?” Young CEDA on its part focuses on undergraduate and graduate students and organises regular meetings and technical excursions where experiences of young professionals working in the dredging field as a contractor or consultant are presented and discussed. The indispensable after activity drinks offer plenty opportunity to exchange experience and ideas and to develop close professionals links, even friendships.

Finding the right people

What worries Pennekamp is the fact that many recent graduates are less specialised that they used to be. Nowadays many graduates receive a very general education and as such sometimes do not fit the mold of specialised industries, like dredging. So, not only the arrival of new employees offers a challenge, but most recent graduates do not have the necessary specialist training most companies require. The Dutch Association of Dredging Contractors offers a training to improve the execution of dredging work for recent graduates. Around 300 members have partaken in this training. “It is a good example of how we work”, Heinis comments. “Our members noticed that many young professionals were missing key information to be able to do their jobs properly, which is why we stepped in and created this post-higher vocational training. Most companies also ensure a mentor is present to guide the young professionals.”

Export and human capital

The Dutch government is another important player the Dutch Association of Dredging Contractors deals with. From lobbying for a good collective employment agreement for the industry, to being a part of the Topsector Water. The Topsector Water is one of nine industries the Dutch government has appointed due to the strong knowledge and abilities the Dutch have in these industries. This Topsector Water has four main targets: public relations, innovations, internationalisation and human capital. Heinis: “The dredging market is enormous, so there is enough work for everyone. The Dutch have a very good reputation, which fits in perfectly with the export or internationalisation goal in our Topsector Water policy. The cooperation with foreign companies is very important, as we can really learn from each other. For instance, overseas it is normal for dredging contractors to be part of a project very early on. This way they can mould the design and ideas. In the Netherlands, more often than not, the plans and designs are all ready by the time dredging contractors are hired. An idea, I believe, we should take on board. There is plenty of work to do in the industry and as long as we hold on to this source, more attention will be paid to our industry.”

“As an independent professional society CEDA does not engage in any lobbying”, states Pennekamp. “We represent the interest of the dredging community at large through our active involvement in international regulatory bodies such as the London Convention, OSPAR Convention and various bodies of the European Commission. Our overall aim is to ensure that any legislation pertaining to dredging and dredged material placement activities and hydraulic construction works is based on the sound technical and scientific knowledge takes account of best practice and is ultimately workable.”

Change is necessary

The amount of work has direct response to the amount of competition. The oil andgas industries were rising steadily when the economic climate was booming. Now, as we face a troubled economic climate, the demand for maintenance and upkeep rise. Ports are looking to have their ports dredged and deepened to hold on to their steady stream of clients. Pennekamp: “The dredging industry will have  to come up with innovative ways of keeping their work portfolios alive. The huge technical challenges arising from deep sea mining call for innovations, and as presentations by Dutch speakers at the latest CEDA Dredging Days have shown many Dutch companies are developing the materials and equipment necessary.”

“To adjust to this different client means getting your priorities straight. Service should be number one”, advocates Heinis.”Yes, the economy has been better, but for our industry the perspectives are good. Another priority is innovation. The world is changing, we have to put in hard work to see the results. We must change, too. More durable and sustainable equipment and vessels, less CO2 emission and less fuel consumption. Our members are investing in cleaner vessels, but it is difficult now. It costs a lot of money and the return on the investment may take many years. We have to remember that Rome was not built in one day.”

During our conversation with both parties, it became clear that the dredging industry offers many exciting possibilities. Plenty of work, education and associations that drive to support their members wherever possible. Heinis concludes: “Cooperation will always be key, between the association and its members and the government and the association, but mostly between our members and their current and future customers.”

Rebecca McFedries

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