Navigating the Training World a Key to Success

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
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From the ranks of the constructor class of 2015, we should expect a modern day Sir Albert Jennings or a Sir John Holland to emerge.

Others like Baulderstone, Barclay, Edwards, Dusseldorp, Clough and Hutchinson offer similar inspiration to new constructors. In their day, these leaders used deep construction and engineering knowledge to found organisations that survive today. Others who have made important contributions to Australian construction have not proved as durable. Names such as Kell & Rigby and Stuart Brothers have had mixed fortunes, but their experiences are just as important to the constructors class of 2015. Their study should be compulsory.

Without exception, these construction leaders were not only driven by the aspirations for their own businesses, they shared a longer term vision for construction in Australia. In those days, that vision was defined by traditional trade-based construction methods and a domestic belief that “down under” construction was pretty efficient – and it was. In any regard, they made the most of Australia’s geographic distances from the major northern hemisphere markets. But this is not the case today.

Of course, there will always be a rewarding career for trades-based constructors who commit to learning and becoming proficient with any of the core trades such as carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, electrical, painting and mechanical services. These constructors will find their services in demand through construction’s economic cycles as long they are professional and customer focused. These tradespeople will primarily be self-employed or work for small to medium sized companies with reputations for reliability and performance. Constructors with a sound trades background will be well-suited to further study and eventually to supervision of projects and contracting companies.

Experienced Australian trades people and supervisors will enjoy global opportunities and many will secure careers with multi-national organisations. Australians are generally regarded for their skills, work ethic, ability to solve problems and lead. Nevertheless, it will be impossible to traverse a new career in construction over the next 25 years without being able to engage with the range of integrated technologies and systems that will define construction organisation and methods in the future.

So what’s happening here and now, and how does this impact the constructor class of 2015?

A scan of the courses on offer and the various entry criteria in Australia and around the Pacific Rim can be instructive.

One interesting carpentry course is offered at NSW Hornsby TAFE Trades. This course is designed for apprentices in the carpentry trade. You will learn the basic foundations and content to develop the skills and knowledge used in the building and construction industry to efficiently produce quality work.

You will also learn about safe work practices and about the context of the building industry. There are no educational entry requirements for this qualification. However, before enrolling in this course, you must successfully complete the WHS Induction Training (White Card) which will allow you entry into a construction work site. The expected outcomes from this qualification provide a trade career in carpentry, covering work in residential and commercial applications.

Another is the RMIT Diploma of Building and Construction. The course introduction says, “Construction is not just about building sites, it’s about building a bigger picture: the planning, coordination, and control of a project from inception to delivery. In this program, you’ll examine the principles, techniques and regulations of the building and construction industry for all types of medium-rise and wide-span buildings, including buildings up to 25 metres high.”

This practical program incorporates hands-on work and project-based learning. You’ll experience many aspects of building projects and understand how these relate to each other.

A third is National University of Singapore – Department of Building, School of Design and Built Environment. The Master of Science (Project Management) programme was established in 1986, making it one of the oldest project management programmes in the world. It aims to provide professionals with the sound management skills and techniques necessary for the successful completion of complex projects.

The programme focuses on front-end general project management issues such as development, finance, contract and dispute management. This is supplemented by allowing students to take elective modules from other faculties according to their professional specialisations.

The programme is taught by senior faculty members and industry experts. It attracts specialists from various sectors such as construction, engineering, marine and IT. Participants from overseas feature strongly in all intakes, and the wide mix of expertise allows for meaningful exchange and interaction.

The department is a founding member of the International Project Management Education Union (IPMEU) of universities that offer strong project management programmes. The partner universities are Peking University, ESC-Lille, University of Quebec, University of California (Berkeley), University of Maryland, University of Texas (Dallas), University of Lancaster, and University of Manchester. The former Programme Director, Assoc Professor Willie Tan, is the first rotating Chairman of IPMEU.

I make no specific judgement about any of these courses or the others I have scanned. But one thing that strikes me as interesting is that there is scant mention of challenging or preparing graduates for new forms of construction careers and jobs that will better respond to the industrialisation and globalisation of construction. A second is a silence in the areas of productivity and competitiveness. While these considerations may be there below the surface, I am of the view that these are here and now issues and they will confront the constructor class of 2015 sooner than later.

It would be worthwhile for new constructors to scan the construction career offerings from each of the countries around the Pacific Rim to get a feel of what their peers will be taught and the career trajectories they may be expected to follow. For example, I have a view that the weight placed on engineering and science by countries with whom we compete could be an indicator of who is preparing best for the future.

In my view, engineers and scientists will be key drivers of the global construction economy. They will underpin innovation and problem solving, they are fundamental to design and built construction integrity and they are the thinkers in new process and system integration. In this context, the following OEDC table may be instructive:


Before the members of the class of 2015 commit to the personal and financial investment being asked of them they might consider some pieces I think are missing from the decision making puzzle.

The first seems to me to be evidence that what they will be taught will stand them in good stead for the rewarding construction careers they seek. It’s no good being taught more of the same.

The second is: does what is being offered represent value for money? The cost of education is an investment, so it should make sense to want to reap benefits in exchange for the time and dollars spent. In the end, it is for new constructors to embrace a mindset of inquiry, to commit to energetic learning about the industry and to develop the confidence to constructively challenge the status quo when it is confronted. This is a personal challenge and it should be an informed one.

Most constructors will expect to achieve their maximum earnings window between the ages of 35 and 55 years, but tomorrow’s constructors should do more than merely drift to where they may eventually optimise their return on a chosen career trajectory.  They should maintain a constant vigilance of the winds of change now blowing across this global industry.  Sensing change early and being amongst the first movers to exploit new opportunities will make it hard for the less agile to follow. This agility will define the constructors class of 2015 and the enterprises they will spawn.

The hanging question will then be, who from the constructors class of 2015 will develop the best navigation skills to leave their mark on an industry crying out for new leaders and success stories?

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