Despite the raft of challenges facing the tunnelling industry, the mood at the North American Tunnelling (NAT) conference this week was upbeat. The event was held in Philadelphia between 19 and 22 June with over 1,000 delegates from around the world attending the event.
Mike Rispin, chair of the Underground Construction Association (UCA) of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) said: “I am absolutely delighted that people have been able to show up despite some of the challenges with Covid and with the travel situation. We are back to pre-Covid levels which shows the resilience of the industry and people’s desire to get back to this sort of event where they can network, exchange ideas and move the industry forward.”
Some of the issues referenced by speakers and delegates over the four-day event included the rising cost of materials and supply-chain constraints, ongoing cement shortages due to the big freeze earlier this year, and the need to attract more people to tunnelling. “People shortages, supply chain issues, logistics, it’s not only the tunnelling industry that’s experiencing these problems, but we have to look after our own and band together to tackle them,” said Rispin, who is vice president of tunnelling for Strata Worldwide.
Christophe Bragard, who received the Muddy Boots Award at the UCA Awards session, held at the conference, was one of several winners to comment on the issue of skills shortages in his acceptance speech. “How do we retain people in our teams?” asked Bragard, before going on to compare good teamwork on tunnelling projects with mountaineering – his other passion. Leonard A Worden, founder and president of segment manufacturer CSI, who was made UCA Person of the Year said that it was difficult to recruit people. “The biggest challenge we have today – apart from inflation – is finding people who want to work for us,” he said. “We have failed people, we haven’t taught them how to work,” he said.
Karen Pallansch, general manager and CEO at AlexRenew, who spoke at the Women in Tunnelling reception at the event on Sunday evening offered a strategy for retaining people; she advised those present to be empathetic and offer support. “A lot of older women have said to me ‘I am not going to help you, no one gave me any help’. We cannot be like that…our job is to help other people, have an open palm,” she said.
Other individual recipients of UCA awards were William W Edgerton who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr Jamal Rostami, of Colarado School of Mines, who received the Outstanding Educator award and Aswathy Sivaram, or Black & Veatch, who received the Young Member award.
Project winners were the City of Atlanta, PC Russell JV, River to Tap-Stantec JV and Black & Veatch for the Atlanta Raw Water Supply Program; OHLA USA-Posillico-SELI Overseas JV; Bergen Point WWTP Outfall Replacement Project; Renewable Water Resources, Black & Veatch and Superexcavators-CMCRA JV for and Dig Greenville – Reedy River Basin Sewer Tunnel Project. Southland Mole JV, Adea Services and Robbins won Technical Innovation of the Year for their conversion of a hard rock TBM cutterhead to a smaller diameter on Mill Creek.