Cooperation, unification and solidarity – these words can briefly describe the activity of the Norwegian organizations in the construction field. The Bulgarian Construction Chamber representatives got convinced in this during their official visit to Oslo, Norway, at the invitation of Kjetil Toning, President-elect of FIEC, taking office in 2018. The visit was attended by Nikolay Stankov, MSc CE, MBA, BCC President, Lyubomir Kachamakov, MSc Eng. member of the Executive Board of BCC, Chairman of Section “Building Construction” of BCC and member of the Board of Directors of Stroitel Newspaper EAD, Reneta Nikolova, procurator and editor-in-chief of Stroitel Newspaper and Maria Zheleva, chief expert, International Relations and Project Management Dept. of BCC.
The Bulgarian representatives had a meeting with Kari Sandberg, Executive Director of the Norwegian Contractors Association (EBA) – an employer organization representing the building contractors in Norway. The association is the largest organization in the group of the Federation of Construction Industries (BNL) in Norway. The federation represents all companies in the construction value chain, including builders, plumbers, carpenters, roofing specialists, urbanists, and distributors of building materials and equipment among others. BNL unties around 15 branch organizations, representing 4,000 companies whereas ЕВА takes a 45% share in its structure. “We meet every week on Monday to discuss various topics, such as policy, legislation and other issues concerning the sector. Most organizations are based in this building, which is an advantage because we have all the necessary competences and expertise required for our work, including taxes, training, accounting, law and all other technical issues. This is the advantage of being part of a bigger family,” said Sandberg. BNL itself is part of even a larger structure – the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO), which unites 19 branch organizations in the country and represents about 24,000 companies. The unification of various small and large companies around one umbrella organization is quite unusual for other countries but not for the Scandinavians. This “grouping” has its traditions because many of these organizations emerged with the development of the guilds, added Kjetil Toning, Board member of NHO. Historically the Scandinavian model of tripartite cooperation between trade unions, employers’ organizations and the government is also very strong. Although they have some disagreements, especially during negotiation of the wage thresholds, to a large extend these organizations work in close cooperation.
The members of the contractors’ association ЕВА are 241 construction companies, involved in the following sectors: building, rail and road, underwater, maintenance and repair services. EBA’s activities are financed through membership fees, defined through a complicated formula, based on the turnover and the size of the companies among other components. “Unlike in other countries, there is no conflict between small and large companies here, because the needs of the small and the large ones are different and ЕВА strives to satisfy the needs of all its members. Each member organization realizes that the companies in the sector are interdependent and they should therefore work together in good relations. In this sense, everyone benefits from the membership in these umbrella organizations. For instance, for the larger companies publicity could be harmful at times. In these cases they could use the mediation services of ЕВА or ВNL, who are more neutral in conflicts, informed Kari Sandberg.
ЕВА employs around 35 employees working for the benefit of the construction sector on the following key subjects: policy, framework agreements, law, digitization, contractual relations and conditions among others. The work of the association is organized in permanent and temporary committees, which are usually run by representatives of the respective construction companies. The main activities of ЕВА include standpoints on various topical industry issues, provision of expertise and advisory services for all parties involved in the construction value chain, legal services, administrative consultations, support for cases such as accidents at work, signals for corruption, non-payment of social security contributions, support for organization of events, providing recommendations, etc. Most of the services are covered by the members’ fees, however, for some complex services which require more time and/or complicated expertise, additional costs are paid. “Typical services for small and medium-sized enterprises are legal advices, for example on labor law, which is quite complicated. Large companies are handling this themselves because they have legal departments, but for smaller ones it is difficult. We also help them with the documentation preparation and the contractual relations so that they know how to work properly,” said Kari Sandberg.
A very important part of the structure of ЕВА is Byggopp – a national network of 10 regional training centers that provide e-learning and training courses on various topics aimed to complement the educational system and to upgrade the skills of employees in the sector. These professional and technical trainings are practically oriented, related to legislation, new building technologies and processes, project management in construction, etc. Byggopp also works in the field of career development as an intermediary between the employers and the young specialists. The acquisition of a profession is usually carried out by the dual system, which is well developed in Norway. Trainings last for three to four years and the companies are actively involved in the training their trainees, who are usually hired on a permanent contract after they acquire their qualification.
The Bulgarian representatives inquired what should a Bulgarian company do in order to start working in Norway. Kari Sandberg explained that ЕВА does not play a significant role in this process because foreign companies usually enter the market through direct contact with the contractor. Norwegian companies work with foreign partners on some of their projects to add expertise or added value to the end results. This is a trend observed over the last 3-4 years when contracts are getting bigger; competition is growing and the world is getting smaller with the easy communication and logistics across continents. “When it comes to working in Norway, it is important to know that there is a minimum wage and social security threshold. Sometimes it may sound attractive to hire workers at a lower pay because salary costs are the main item in project costs but they cannot fall below a certain level. There are many systems and procedures put in place to trace whether all companies are meeting the minimum wage thresholds that are fairly high compared to Eastern Europe,” added Kjetil Toning.
After getting acquainted with the Scandinavian model of cooperation between all parties in the construction sector, the Bulgarian representatives headed to the headquarters of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, a government agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications, to be introduced to the unique model of international partnership between the public and the private entities in the road sector. The meeting was hosted by Marit Due Langaas, responsible for the international activities at the agency and secretary of the Nordic Road Association (NVF). The organization was established in 1935 in Stockholm, Sweden, by the following founding countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. The Faroe Islands joined later in 1975. The mission of NVF is to facilitate the development of the road and transport sector in the Nordic countries through cooperation between all parties involved in the road construction. The members of the road association are 320 Scandinavian organizations in the public sector (municipalities and road agencies), private companies, consultants, contractors, universities, research institutes and other stakeholders in the sector. 65 of these are Norwegian organizations. The NVF also cooperates with international road organizations, such as the World Road Organization and the Baltic Road Association.
“Our activities are based on the exchange of information, experience, knowledge and good practices and excludes any kind of commercial activities. We are neutral in terms of business, politics and we follow one fundamental principle – to learn from our own knowledge and experience,” said Due Langaas. The strategic priorities of the organization are planned every four years and the management is based on the rotation principle. Each period ends with an international congress where the next presidency country is elected. Among the current strategic themes are safe and environmentally friendly transport systems, quality- and resource-optimal transports, competent and effective organizations and innovation and renewal. The main activities of NVF are conducted through 10 committees working in the following areas: bridges, digitalization, operations and maintenance, climate and environment, competence, urban transport and transport planning, traffic safety and transports, tunnels, design and road technology. The committees include representatives from all member organizations, and the current themes and their size vary according to the needs of the member states. “Although the Scandinavian states seem to be equal at first sight, they have certain differences not only in terms of language, but also in terms of culture, history and mentality. Sometimes working together and reaching a consensus is a challenge.” However, NVF is able to reach a dialogue and show different perspectives, therefore, membership in this organization and the committees is very valuable and useful for the employees of the member-organizations. “They expand their network; communicate with colleagues with the same experience and interests. Once you have established such a group and its members start working together, it is sometimes very difficult to dismiss them because they build strong professional relations and friendships,” claims Kjetil Toning, who is also Board member of the Nordic Road Association.
The committees meet at least once a year, however, NVF encourages the open seminars as well where everyone can participate. Each committee applies the principle of balance between gender, age and experience of the members. At a first glance, working in such mixed groups sounds risky in terms of efficiency. Is it possible for people with so many different interests and goals to work together when the business strives for profit, and the government is trying to push its policies? “Sometimes it may be easier to split participants in order to reach a consensus but the purpose of the committees is to make people talk, discuss and reach an understanding among all professionals in the road industry. NVF’s experience proves that working in such an environment leads to very useful results. However this requires trust, discipline and dedication from all participants,” explained Due Langaas. “Furthermore, this makes the sector more efficient because you know whom to connect with, good relations are built with all stakeholders, there are fewer conflicts and more understanding,” added Kjetil Toning to the advantages of working in mixed groups.
“I am often asked what the results of NVF are. There is no such thing as a book or report; the results are learning, an expanded network of contacts, a lot of new ideas, inspiration and motivation! Some time ago we realized that these achievements are more useful, so we stopped writing reports and started organizing different seminars encouraging the dialogue on topical issues. Because it is the discussion that leads to innovation, technological advancement and business achievements in the future, and all this acts as a catalyst for higher activity in the sector,” said in conclusion Margit Due Langaas.
During the next meeting the Bulgarian representatives found that there are many similarities between the leading media, publishing and advertising house for the construction industry in Norway Byggeindustrien (Building industry), and newspaper Stroitel, the BCC subsidiary, which publishes the weekly newspaper and organizes the events of the Chamber. Just like the Bulgarian newspaper, the magazine Byggeindustrien is owned by the contractors’ association ЕВА and is growing fast. “They have done it all for a few years, starting from a regular edition and reaching online readers as of the most popular newspapers in Norway. Politicians, organizations, companies, consultants, architects, everyone browses the pages of their website every day,” claimed Kari Sandberg, member of the Board of Directors of Byggeindustrien.
The printed paid version of the magazine comes out twice a month, informed the editor-in-chief and host of the meeting Arve Brekhus. Usually its volume is between 150 and 250 pages, except for the annual special edition covering the successful projects of the year, which can reach up to 600 pages. The length of the issue is determined by the volume of the materials and advertisements. The print run of the magazine is 14,000, and according to the editor-in-chief the readers reach 60,000, including construction specialists (contractors, architects, engineers, designers and consultants), government organizations, municipalities and agencies, consultants, researchers and others. The magazine also offers a special edition for lawyers in the construction sector who become more and more. The annual turnover of the print edition reaches EUR 5.6 million.
In 2001 the magazine started to running a website as well which similarly as the website of newspaper Stroitel publishes daily short news whereas longer articles and analyses find place in the print edition. The unique visitors of the website are more than 84,000 a week. Recently the edition added video news and podcasts to its portfolio, which are posted through the you tube channel on their website. They also offer video streaming for events of the magazine, ЕВА and other organizations related to the construction industry. For now, video materials are viewed by about 2,000 people but the information is useful and has potential for development, according to Arve Brekhus.
Like newspaper Stroitel, Byggeindustrien organizes the events of EBA, including the Builder’s Day each year in March, together with the regional ministry. During the big event which gathers experts, politicians and construction specialists awards are given in different categories. About 3,500 people participated during the last Builder’s Day in Oslo, opened by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Every second year the edition organizes the largest construction exhibition, which gathers about 45,000 visitors, of which about 20% are organizations from South America and Asia. Last but not least, the team offers support for construction companies in preparing press releases, implementing PR activities and organizing events, which is especially useful for small companies.
Next year Byggeindustrien will turn 50 years old. The magazine owns its leap to the first editor-in-chief, who in just a few years turns it from an edition with few employees and an insignificant turnover into a respectable media with 32 employees and annual revenue of more than 5 million euros. “The key behind this success is to work hard every day, often late at night and over the weekends. But at work we have fun and experiment on the market. From a small newspaper we turned into a big magazine. When I started in 2001, everything was different. The website then was not so popular. Now we have a print edition, thousands of online readers and a variety of products with which we remain competitive on the market,” concluded editor-in-chief Arve Brekhus. The member of the Board of Directors of Stroitel Newspaper EAD Lyubomir Kachamakov and the editor-in-chief of the BCC edition presented the activities of Stroitel Newspaper, which include a weekly print edition with the most up-to-date issues about the sector, 52 issues a year, a site whose visits are constantly growing and for last year they were 627 thousand, about 52 thousand a month, book publishing –collections, almanacs, as well as organization of various forums conferences, roundtables on topics important for the industry, including the Annual Ball of the Builder. It was underlined that the edition has a page in English and the participants in the meeting were given the issue, in which was published the material for the ball of the builder held this year, as well as the almanac “10 years BCC” in English, published by newspaper Stroitel. Kachamakov and Nikolova invited Arve Brekhus and the representatives of Byggeindustrien to visit Bulgaria next year to get acquainted with the work of BCC and its edition, as well as with various sign sites, realized by the Bulgarian construction companies. The two editions of the construction organizations agreed to share experience and information and to publish interesting materials for the readers.
Despite the significant differences between the two countries, during this fruitful visit to Oslo Bulgarian and Norwegian representatives discussed topics of mutual interest and set out steps for further development of the partnership between BCC and Norwegian Contractors Association. “The presented Scandinavian models of cooperation between the private and the public sector, as well as between all the parties in the construction chain are extremely useful and effective, from which we can draw valuable experience,” commented the BCC President Nikolay Stankov, MSc CE, MBA.