Conrad Parker, Island Crane Hire, Gunville
“Grow slowly” said Conrad Parker.
“My father suffered when the construction industry went bust during the Thatcher years. He had fourteen mobile cranes working all over the UK.
“The remains of the company were picked up again to form the basis of Island Crane Hire. I joined in 2003 as my father wanted a plan for retiring. Having been working in Oxford as a qualified structural engineer for some years it seemed the ideal opportunity for me to return home, continue to practice engineering whilst also running Island Crane Hire.
“We could have tried to rebuild the company to its previous size. But common sense made us plan to stay on the Island and provide all the cranes that the industry requires here.
“That works – people know we are committed to the Island. It makes for a lot of goodwill on both sides.
“It also gives me confidence. I've just bought a new crane with one of the longest reaches for its size in the country. It can work as a crane or as a man rider platform: useful to construction, commercial and domestic uses - even the emergency services.
“I already serve the Island construction industry, so I can't easily get more orders. I have to find another way to grow...”
as published by IW County Press, Column by Dave Simon
We take safety for granted nowadays.
Commentary by Dave Simon
The UK has a very good record of Health and Safety at work. Numbers of injuries have dropped by around a third over the last 15 years. Major injuries here are considerably lower than most other EU countries. And fatal incidents are the lowest in EU.
But on the Island, many industries are high-risk. Agriculture, fishing and forestry are worst, construction second, accommodation and food services is third.
Problems found in the construction industry before the recession have not been sorted. The economy is recovering, so beware: we may be entering a danger zone.
Mark Elliott of Wight Safety says “everyone in a company has a right to arrive safely, work safely and go home safely – including bosses”. While we cannot be complacent, he confirms that awareness continues to grow and money is spent to reduce risks.
Answers are often simple, cheap, and can make work more effective.
Safety is everyone's responsibility. Over half of the annual £14.4 billion bill created by accidents is paid by the individuals concerned. Prevention is the best way to avoid the pain, misery and cost.
If you notice an accident waiting to happen, tell the boss. You might just save your neighbour's life.
Conrad Parker continues:
"The Government regards the construction industry as the engine of the economy. Not only does the country need more buildings – commercial, industrial as well as residential – but it creates jobs and workplaces. But progress is not guaranteed: There have been times during over the last 10 years when we made no profit!
I have to keep my equipment up-to-date with progress in building methods and importantly in line with continued changes from the Health Safety Executive.
So I have to re-equip every few years. I can't afford brand new cranes – they cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds. And they lose value as soon as they go to work, just like new cars leaving the showroom. I buy second-hand cranes, give them a thorough overhaul and then paint them in our colours.
Then I have to keep up on their servicing and maintenance. If something goes wrong with a crane when it's out on hire, everyone loses money. My reputation depends on reliability, and all that maintenance is part of what that costs. Health and safety is another cost. They are both essential and I won't cut corners.
Even through the industry's ups and downs, the Island will always have a limited amount of building and commercial work. I already serve these industries, so my business is not going to grow substantially through increased sales.
I keep a fleet of five cranes, which is the right number for the demand on the Island - however this may change for a month or two during my re-equipping period.
My plan has always been to buy better every time I renew machines, which is on average every four to five years. During the past five years my cranes have got younger as well as more modern. This gradual process of renewing the fleet is the only way I can do it; especially as all my work is concentrated on the Island. The company is getting more profitable and valuable as the years go by. But I do tread with caution, as I know from previous experience, things can go wrong very quickly if the industry as a whole takes a downturn.
Whatever business you’re in you have to think long-term – very little growth happens quickly.
Preparation for Growth
I feel the Island is lifting out of recession. I see the construction industry gathering optimism, gearing up, renewing equipment and recruiting. It always takes time – public consultation, planning consents, financing all take their own course. But there is more work for both small and large scale construction projects on the Island and that creates more confidence for the industry as a whole to grow.
I do believe that if you start small and work hard, you can achieve anything.
Progress through Learning
We need to help young people chose skilled trades. I worry that computer games and college classes create a very 'comfortable indoors' culture. The average age of a qualified crane driver is now 55 and with two of my most experienced drivers nearing retirement age this is something that really concerns me.
As a country we need to prize manual skills more. The educational system is too fixed on academic targets at the expense of practical skills. I saw a report that kids' roaming distance has shrunk by 90% since the 70's; and more children go to hospital for injuries received falling out of bed than falling out of trees!
We aim to carry on – slowly but surely. We need to join the modern world, and develop our Facebook page and overhaul the website – there's always something to learn. It's been said that business no longer depends on who you know, but how fast you learn... I think that's probably true now.