International construction competition hit by typhoon

Construction students taking part in the finals of the Global Student Challenge in Hong Kong had to be evacuated from the competition venue when a force 8 typhoon was announced yesterday.

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The students, whose attention was on planning their construction management strategies, hiring and firing staff, estimating and bidding for work and dealing with project overruns within the Merit game were largely unfazed by the drama, continuing their work in their hotel rooms and in corridors.
Six teams made the finals of the Challenge; three Australian universities, Deakin, Newcastle and Curtin, along with Hong Kong University, Glasgow Caledonian and Loughborough universities.

The competition between the teams was intense, with the shortness of time to analyse the results of each rounds tactic dramatically increasing the pressure.

“People start second guessing themselves overnight”, said Jonathan Higgins of Merit, the game upon which the competition is based. Most teams working late into the nights on their strategies as many were having to alter their strategies dramatically from those they had planned.
Jordi Dowell of Newcastle University commented: “We have had to make lots of changes since coming into the finals. Our strategy worked beforehand but we haven’t identified how to adjust our strategy to win work. Pricing seems to be very important.”
Vere Longmore of Deakin University agreed: “Before we were bidding and winning jobs with a healthy margin and making lots of profit. That didn’t work here and we didn’t adapt quickly enough.”

Adam Salter of Curtin University said his team had been surprised by the aggressive tactics used in the finals. “We felt we had prepared well but we had a shock in the first rounds.”

Most of the students were new to the Merit game, but at Loughborough University it is used to teach one of the modules although they too noted: “The competition is a lot fiercer here, people want to win a lot more.”

The breadth of the game is one of its great attractions with even the Loughborough students who were familiar with it commenting: “It gives you a different view of construction, its much more realistic about what we can expect when we move into industry. It’s about what happens at director level. How you make decisions which will affect the company’s profitability, and you get feedback right away – which can be shaking.”
The Glasgow Caledonian team took an early lead in the competition and their Dale Mason appreciated the learning opportunity playing the game presents: “The best thing about this competition is the business learning side. It’s a massive learning curve, seeing things not just in terms of calculations and equations but in terms of the outcomes of your decisions.

“The hardest thing has been learning diplomacy skills and finding a way to come to an agreement – team working – it sounds easy but it is quite difficult at times. Mostly at university you do solo projects so this is a real change.

But for Dale it isn’t the best thing about the competition. “That’s definitely the whole experience of Hong Kong. This is the furthest I’ve ever been from home and its absolutely amazing. You’ve seen big buildings before, but you’ve never seen so many huge ones before in such a small space. I feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

Dale was doing the estimating and construction planning for Glasgow Caledonian who have been in the lead for much of the competition so far while the rankings below them have changed substantially. However, while their ranking hasn’t changed, their share price has not. A sudden fall in their share price was precipitated by poor allocation of staff resources which undermined their financial position or maybe they had been watching China’s performance in the last few days on the news and they will bounce back shortly.

The winners of the competition will be announced at a Gala dinner at Hong Kong’s New World Millennium Hotel tonight.