Change of leadership at the Construction Equipment Association

05 October 2021

Suneeta Johal has been welcomed as the new Chief Executive of the CEA, and has now officially started in the role. In an exclusive interview with Louise Carney - conducted as she prepared to take up the role - Johal spoke candidly about her background, leadership style, vision for the CEA and more.

I understand you spent nine years at IPSE – the organisation supporting the self-employed and freelancers. What was your role there?

Suneeta Johal, the new CEO of the CEA Suneeta Johal, the new CEO of the CEA

I first joined the organisation as a research manager within the policy team.

My role was to create a research strategy for the association mainly focusing on policy research to influence legislative change, and also member research to really understand the needs of the self-employed and using that to form the commercial strategy of the organisation.

I became senior after a couple of years, where the company created a new senior leadership position for me and I became the Head of Research, Education and Training where my role was to further develop and embed the research strategy across the organisation.

One of the key things that is really relevant here is I did a research project which looked very closely at members’ needs and evaluated the association’s product, services and pricing etc.

This led to a transformation and a revamp of all products and services, and new branding to better reflect the members that the association represented.

On the other side I looked after education and training – building an offering around that for the first time which meant I introduced the university partnership programme membership.

It is essentially designed to help support the younger generation coming into the work force and introduce training programmes, also addressing the skills gap - which we all know has become increasingly important over recent years

With the commercial team I implemented strategies for membership growth and also non-member income generation, so looking at things like sponsorship partnerships. In terms of events, with the pandemic, delivering our award winning conference virtually.

All of these strands fit in quite nicely with CEA and the key issues that I think we are going to be facing

Also, construction is the biggest industry in the self-employed market place; we had a lot of members at IPSE who were construction workers, so the construction industry is not completely new to me!

With your background in research and commercial development, how best do you think you can use those skills and that experience in the construction equipment industry?

In terms of research, my background will help me to have a detailed understanding of not just CEA members but the wider industry.

The CEA exists for its members and the member should be at the heart of everything that the CEA does - so really understanding the members - what their challenges are and what they need is critical.

More specifically my experience in policy research has given me a strong grounding in policy development and how the research feeds into policy and development of relationships with key political contacts. I think this will help in terms of the CEA influencing legitimate change through lobbying and representing the industry on key issues.

In terms of my commercial experience, this will enable me to use this insight to deliver services that members and the wider industry value also while ensuring they are sustainable as part of the future strategy of CEA - it will also help me to ensure that CEA membership truly reflects what the construction equipment industry needs particularly in such challenging times.

It is going to be absolutely important to really understand what members want at different times at different points. What they needed a year ago might not necessarily be what they need now or in the future.

You are new to the construction equipment industry – what are your first impressions of the CEA and the people you have met so far?

I attended a dinner with the CEA Management Council and the Executive Board hosted at JCB recently and my first impressions are that they are all really very nice people and very supportive.

With me not being from the construction equipment industry, they offered me their help and I can contact them at any time. They all said, “We’ve been here a long time and we can give you the all the support you need”. So that’s been really great, but I have also had so many people in the industry outside of the CEA reach out to me since my appointment was announced.

I’m really looking forward to working with the executives. I think we are going to make a great team and I feel we have a shared vision for the CEA moving forward. Exciting times ahead.

You are the youngest person to take on the senior role at the CEA and its first female CEO, do you think that will give you some new and different insights in developing the Association’s forward strategy?

I am hoping to bring a completely new perspective and fresh energy. Being female is absolutely relevant considering approximately just 6% of CEO’s are female and probably only 1% are minority females – and when you get down to the under 40’s – even lower.

The way the industry is heading with all the innovation and advance technologies I think someone with a fresh approach is going to be great for the CEA. I think this coupled to the fact that I am new to the industry it means I can bring a fresh approach.

I can ensure the organisation reflects and attracts diversity in the younger generation which is also a key issue in the sector as well. It will ensure the CEA keeps up with change moving to the next phases.

It’s a bold move by the association but a really good one! Many associations are scared of change – my appointment shows the CEA is forward-thinking in future proofing the organisation for the industry and its members.

The construction industry, like many others, has the challenge of attracting a new generation of recruits – to work both in manufacturing and the maintenance and operation of plant. Do you have a view on this?

With all the technology that’s being brought in you need the relevant skills and I think this aligns very well with the younger generation – technology is what they are familiar with and I think the industry needs to reflect this.

The construction equipment industry continually evolves – we need to evolve with it to reflect the younger generation the sector is trying to attract. That is something I will certainly be looking at when I join the CEA.

I will be also looking at ways to reach the younger generation and talk to them about the great opportunities that lie with the construction equipment sector, so they might consider us for their chosen career path.

I will be also looking at ways to reach the younger generation and talk to them about the great opportunities that lie with the construction equipment sector, so they might consider us for their chosen career path.

Early days yet I know, but what issues do you think you will be prioritising within the first few months of your leadership?

From what I have learnt talking to industry there are three key issues in the industry at the moment – the first being the target in the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

We have the COP26 climate change conference coming up in November. There will be a lot of work in terms of policy and campaigning around that.

The second would be EU legislation and whether the UK will mirror legislation or the EU will diverge and what this means for members.

In October I will be involved in the CECE summit in Brussels, which is taking place virtually. Finally, the skills gap in the sector, particularly in the pandemic, it’s created a barrier to people joining the industry and I really want to see how the CEA can address this issue – we need to look at this issue very seriously now.

What are you looking forward to the most?

Everything of course! I am passionate about all the things we have talked about but knowing that the last 18 months has been really challenging for the industry, I am really excited now to start seeing the recovery and to lead the CEA into its next phase, particularly with innovation in the industry, and opportunities for the sector.

It’s an exciting sector to work in – there’s huge investment in infrastructure and technology with Build Back Better, the Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce, Project Speed.

These all combined means that I see there’s an opportunity and a real potential for growth for the both the CEA and the industry. It’s going to be how we seize these opportunities and make the most of it.

*This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of Construction Worx. To download it and or past issues, click here.

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