A team of largely Kier sponsored students have returned from Hong Kong after coming third in the finals of the CIOB Global Student Challenge, beating strong competition from around the world.

The squad from Loughborough University – led by Kier Construction Eastern’s Cameron MacKenzie, were placed 6th after the qualifying rounds for the prestigious global event, earning themselves a trip to the finals in Hong Kong. Once there they had to overcome their jet lag quickly and face intense pressure throughout the three day final. Despite fierce competition from strong teams from China, Australia and Britain they clawed back points to place third – narrowly beaten by a team from Cambridge University. The winners were Glasgow Caledonian to complete an all-British podium.

The successful Loughborough team celebrating their third place. From left to right: Cameron MacKenzie (Kier Eastern), Harvey Kohout (Bouygues), Mikey Fitzgerald and Jordan Keating (Kier London).

If you would like to read more about the challenge, Cameron has written a case study of the teams experience below.

Global Student Challenge

The Boring Stuff (you should probably read this first!)

The Global Student Challenge gives teams (of four) control of a simulated construction company, operated via the interface of a webpage. This is called ‘the game’, and consists of a series of boxes, selections and commands. These are split into six departments; Finance; Marketing; Bidding; Estimating; Construction and Personnel which are designed to give students a taste of the kind of tough decisions that senior management face.

After these areas have been worked through and elements such as dividend payments, profit mark-ups and labour have been inputted the game is submitted to be processed by an AI system. Every submission represents 3 months in the game – let’s call this a ‘round’.

Once processing is complete, the game will return an outcome based on the decisions of the previous round including the effects of progressing time, and the cycle begins again. In this way, teams have the chance to build their company over multiple ‘simulated’ years and form a long-term business strategy.

The competitive element is incorporated by awarding points for every round based on several different performance factors. This allows teams to be compared and ranked.

Later in the game, all teams are thrown into the same arena to compete directly against each other as well as the AI.

To qualify to the final, 5 rounds are submitted over 5 weeks running through March/April. The top 6 teams globally are then taken through to the final in Hong Kong to battle over a further 10 rounds to be crowned champions.

Case Study

Many people have asked ‘what is the Global Student Challenge?’ To answer this question, I wanted to attempt to capture the experience – no surprises it came out a little too long for a newswire! Therefore, this is a brief summary piece to read alongside the newswire, for those who are interested in delving a little deeper.

It was the 7th April 2017, and what would otherwise have been a completely normal afternoon, had turned into a long and tense wait in anticipation of some news – big news! Finally, at 16:47 the email I had been expecting came through, subject header; You’re a Global Student Challenge Finalist! By the narrowest of margins, we had done it – we were going to Hong Kong!

It had taken six intense weeks to qualify, through trialling – where we repeated the first round continually to optimise our decisions – and five weeks of competition against the computer’s artificial intelligence (AI) to be ranked against the 43 other teams. After two weeks, we appeared on the leader board (top 10), and the remaining three weeks were spent clinging to our position – but now it was all to play for with a clean slate in the final.

Sunday July 17th, although battling with jetlag, we arrived excited and hopeful in a rainy Hong Kong. The first day was shrewdly designed to be a test of speed and efficiency, squeezing five of the ten rounds in the morning and afternoon sessions. The big challenge was to cut down the time of a submission, from our comfort zone of one week in the qualification rounds, to just one hour!

Despite the pressure, we began strongly through the early rounds, fluctuating between 2nd and 4th but never quite claiming the top spot. Our strategy targeted growth within our means, to concentrate on refining
the smaller aspects and avoid growing too quickly – focusing on profit rather than turnover. After establishing a healthy base against the AI system, it was now time to enter the final rounds to test our mettle directly against the other teams.

Nobody anticipated just how fierce the competition was going to be! A new feature for 2017 was to conceal points and only display position, so the gap between teams was unknown. This made the rounds unbearably tense, and extremely tough to judge the level of risk necessary to climb the leader board.

Everybody struggled to win work, and we were no exception. Even with profit margins plummeting to 0%, the flow of work began to dry up. Suddenly, our extremely well run business had increasingly less to run, with some punishing labour layoffs. A major client that we had targeted and worked hard to establish a ‘Perfect’ relationship with, decided twice to award critical projects to opposition with a higher bid. Now we were really on the ropes and fighting for survival.

However, so were the others, and even as our performance dipped we miraculously rose to a podium position after falling to a worrying 5th. When the smoke cleared, we had finished 3rd in what had ended as a battle to see who could downsize their company the most effectively in very difficult market conditions.

Conclusion
Finishing third proved that Team Kier were up to the task and that we didn’t scrape through qualification by luck. The real victory however, was the chance to meet some fantastic new people and the lessons we learnt along the way. It required a massive team effort and many hours of dedicated work to even make the final, of which we were rewarded with an epic week in Hong Kong. It truly was a challenge!

Not one to accept defeat, my new goal is to help (a mostly Kier!) team from Loughborough University to the final next year, and on to victory to dethrone Glasgow Caledonian from their three year reign as champions

~ Cameron MacKenzie