OB Carpentry – How times have changed

Oliver and his wife from OB Carpentry




Oliver and his wife from OB Carpentry

I had the opportunity to chat with Oliver from OB Carpentry in Brisbane. Like every good writer, I started with what I thought would be the story, chatting about some of the projects that Oliver has completed. However, that never ended up being the case.

Oliver has been in the game for more than 30 years and has watched complexity steadily grow; this complexity is all the younger generations of construction workers know.

But it has been the rise of social media over the last few years that has changed the way marketing takes place in construction. As Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary Vee social media and business icon) mentions in numerous videos, if you are in business, you are a media company that happens to sell something.

In terms of marketing in the field of construction, the best form has always been word of mouth. As the digital age has taken hold, word of mouth is slowly becoming less valuable. Once word-of-mouth-generated business was what really showed the strength of someone’s workmanship.

Does that mean a shift in what word-of-mouth advertising is?

OB Carpentry abstract shelving unit

For industry veterans like Oliver, the shift in marketing is adding another complexity in an already complex industry. Going back six years, before the explosion of social media, word of mouth came from personal experience of working with someone. But now, people are starting to recommend people by what they are watching on social media without having that personal experience.

As Oliver mentioned, “for someone, who has always been strongly recommended, making the shift to social media has become more prevalent than ever for him and his business.”

At one time it was automatically granted when a trusted friend or family member recommended you. Now, as more and more of the younger generations become homeowners, gaining access to them is forcing people like Oliver to shift away from old forms of marketing. It’s one thing to be recommended in today’s market, it’s another to demonstrate your work over time.

As times change, it’s tradesmen like Oliver, willing to back themselves, move with the times, and adapt, who will continue to thrive where others may not.

Website: OB Carpentry

Related article: What is online content / marketing? Is this relevant?

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Finishing a project can be bittersweet

Looking down road with townhouses each side of the road




Coming to the end of a project can be a bittersweet pill to swallow. One hand it’s good to see the end of construction and the finished product. On the other hand, it’s a little sad and can be akin to the closing of another chapter in the book of life.

Excavator on pile of soil with large empty construction site at the beginning of constructionI am speaking from personal experience while coming to the end of a project myself, so it’s certainly bittersweet for me right now. I guess this is true when a project takes two years of your life, with early starts, late nights, and long weekends. It is the blood, sweat, and tears we give to a project, and the intimacy we have with every aspect of our builds: the errors, the struggles, the wins, and everything else along the way.

Bittersweet emotions

We all push hard throughout the build; the exhaustion starts to creep up on us. While watching the trades dwindle in number, it becomes easy to slow down, even though we know that the last 5% is going to be the longest and hardest part of the build. I guess, at this point, it is a personal challenge to stay on task, calling on every trick in our own playbook to get to the end.

Looking down a half completed road with scaffolding to the left showing half way in the projectAt the end of a project the conversation, or, for some people, the rumour mill, begins about the next project. We have all have heard the saying, ‘A change is as good as a holiday;’ well, that is the same feeling that I get from knowing I am about to head on to next the project, and it doesn’t help me to keep focused.

While I was writing this, I threw it out to some of my friends to see whether it’s only me or whether we have something in common. After hearing about everyone’s experiences, it became very apparent that wrapping up a project is personal for everyone. And yet, our experiences are all very similar, which is good. I would like to think that I am the same as everyone else, and knowing that my bittersweet experience isn’t unique to me makes me feel normal.

For me and (maybe it’s just me), I figure that when we give so much of our time and ourselves to something, the emotions will roll when the end comes. It feels like closing another chapter in my book of life.

Related article: Don’t stand on the outside of construction

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Damages, the ever elusive “Who’s responsible?”

Tools left on a stone bench top




Damages may be poor work, like the image of dark brick mortar around one brick when the rest of the mortar is light in colour

The bane of every construction supervisor is that thing we love to refer to as damages and/or repairs.  Let’s not confuse damages and repairs with defects.  Damages range from a chipped stone top to a missed building component and everything damaged in between.  No matter how you control, manage, or set up your fancy sequencing of works, it is inevitable that damage is going to happen.  And without fail, the money men will be asking the ever-elusive question, “Who’s responsible?”

I am not sure what is worse when you know it was an accident and you are sending the bill regardless or getting the third degree for not knowing what happened.  As we move from project to project, it never ceases to amaze me how what works on one project won’t work on the next one.

Keeping one site spotlessly clean with clear access and egress, you end up with a high volume of damages happening.  On the next site, it’s an ongoing battle to keep everything orderly, yet the damages and repairs are ridiculously low.  Talking to other supervisors, they have gone down the path of ruthlessly back-charging subcontractors with no success in keeping damages to a minimum.

Series of holes/damage cut into a drywall wall to run missed services.

I guess when you look at construction, our product is purely based on individuals and how well they perform.  When you take this view, construction becomes, well, messy for lack of a better description.

For example, if the electrician is having a bad day and leaves a few cables out of the wall, it won’t be until the end of the project that the problem becomes apparent.  As much as we have all these elaborate business and quality control systems, ultimately it comes down to the individuals.

The real game of damages

No one wants to go back and re-do work; it’s one thing to do a few repairs here and there, it’s another when you are doing repair work every other day.  On sites where damages keep happening, the moral drops significantly and not to mention the care and standards of workmanship.

As we deal in people, construction will never have a one size fits all answer to minimising damages and repairs.  I think the volume of damages is an excellent measure of how each site has worked as a group of people. 

Maybe it’s not a game of keeping damages low, but a game of building respect and appreciation for the work that everyone is putting into the project.

Related article: Construction site management, why I love it

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Being owed money in construction

money, coins, money jar, being owed money in construction




money, coins, money jar, being owed money in constructionIt’s highly likely that we all have been owed money while working in construction at some point in time. It’s almost like being owed cash is an industry right of passage. This happens regardless of whether we own a business, subcontract, or work as an employee.

When we find ourselves in tough times with money outstanding, it can be hard to keep from thinking of ways to collect our money, or at the very least of how we get our own back.

Just like the UK builder who recently drove an excavator through a newly completed Travelodge hotel foyer, we all have thought about doing something similar. After watching the video, out of curiosity, I posted a poll on Instagram asking people who work in construction if they have ever been owed money.

The reality of being owed money in construction

The results didn’t really surprise; more than anything, I think they confirmed more of what we all think of our industry. The sobering results showed that 69% of people have been/are owed money.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the older generation of construction workers and business owners have given words of caution, such as take your tools home each day, and the seasoned business owner will tell new players not to put all their eggs in one basket.

tower crane, construction, highrise constructionAt the end of the day, we see it time and time again; companies come and go at what can only be described as an alarming rate. With this, it is the small contractors who pay their staff weekly and have 30-plus day payment terms that are the ones who pay the ultimate price.

When we look at the sub 10% margins that have become the norm in large-scale construction while companies wrestle for the next round of construction work. It’s highly likely that we are going to start seeing more stories similar to that of the unfortunate builder in the UK; where the workers that simply have run out of options take matters into their own hands.

Related article: Carillion collapse, a timely reminder about your tools

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Sydney’s Opal Tower is a timely reminder

Opal Tower Sydney

Opal Tower Sydney
Opal Tower in Sydney fiasco comes as a timely reminder. Image credit ColourByDesign.




Scaffold, Formwork, construction in SydneyIn the wake of Sydney’s Opal Tower fiasco, the New South Wales state government’s approach is geared toward improving the construction industry and alleviating public concerns by cracking down on private building certifiers. For all in the industry, this can be likened to taking the paintbrush off a child and leaving them with the open paint tin.

Let’s be honest: What is the purpose of building certifiers? They check that the proposed building design meets all the regulations, standards, and building codes for the proposed “classification” of the building. Once the building is complete, all they are checking to ensure the building, in its “finished” form, meets the classification requirements. The certifier will also compile every consultant, subcontractor, and builder alike, that all the appropriate evidence (aka paperwork) stating they have completed their job correctly.

At what point has the private building certifier walked onsite? Unless you are doing a partial handover, they will only come to the site at the end. How is this relevant to the Opal tower in Sydney?

Building certifiers and Opal tower

Reo in suspend concrete slabFirst, we need to ask: was the building certifier there when the concrete was being poured? Was the certifier there when the precast panels were being installed? It is highly, highly unlikely.

How is this the certifiers problem? Frankly, its not. Who’s responsibility is it? It’s ours; we have all done it: didn’t blow/clean the formwork deck off properly, didn’t remove the over-spilled concrete from the top of that column. And before everyone jumps up and down, I am not saying we are doing a bad job. The Opal Tower is one major incident that has emerged after the handover in how many buildings that we all have collectively built? More than anything, this is a timely reminder.

We all have tight timelines, and hundreds of meters of concrete booked weeks in advance, all while managing teams of contractors to meet these fictitious dates. We have become masters of balancing risk, timing, and ever-pressing constraints of construction. Of course, we let things slide; how else do you build a tower in under 12 months?

Opal tower’s timely reminder

It’s easy for us to get complacent when making decisions of what we will let slide and what we won’t. Just like the guys on the ground at Opal tower would be feeling the weight of their decisions made throughout the project, we, too, have to live with our decisions.

Construction site in Sydney

Maybe we have been lucky, maybe not. And with all the quality and consultant inspections that we have to complete on a daily basis, not to mention the continual re-checking (I know we all love re-checking everyone’s work), it’s the detail that will always cause sleepless nights.

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” By having the person (private building certifier) that has a broad brush stroke being responsible for painting between the lines will only cause a mess. After all this has blown over, as we are the people responsible for building our buildings, we will have missed the direct government scrutiny, but we will feel the added pressure with our ever-shrinking project constraints.

Related article: Don’t stand on the outside of construction

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