Like most years, 2017 was a big year with a few insights and lessons that stood out more than others.
Smart toilets comfort button?
We had a chance to meet Kevin from True Blue Building Solutions and discovered smart toilets come with a “comfort button.” Head over to Kevin’s episode of The Travelling Builder Show to hear the full story.
In construction our client’s expectations can be quite unrealistic, Marc and Holly from Clem Carpentry have leveraged the power of video to tackle this problem. In their news article, you get a glimpse into the positive impact video has made for securing projects.
Elusive work-life balance
Everyone’s circumstances make it almost impossible to have a one size fits all approach to the ever-elusive work-life balance. However, Heath from Heath Nicholson Builders brought in a senior management team to help run the company and get his life back. Whereas Dean of Bazzana Tiling went in a completely different direction and stopped working for builders and reduced his team to one, himself.
And to wrap up the stand out points from 2017, Jim from Starbuck Excavations highlights how incremental improvements across all projects can make a huge difference to the profitability of any business.
With that, we say farewell to 2017 and look forward to the insights and lessons 2018 has in store.
For the people who aren’t too sure what brush fencing is, it is a native-grown tea tree, which gets cut and constructed it into hand-made fencing.
Matt: So I spent the day with Rob and the team building fences a few days ago. It’s not rocket science. It’s not fun, sorry, it wasn’t fun. The guys you have working for you are fun. Fill me in on how you acquired your workforce.
Finding a brush fencing workforce
Rob: Yeah, well, the workforce is a bit of a treat. For anybody who’s ever had to get their own workforce, it’s easy to work out why it’s a tough game to get the right people.
I have been building brush fences for about 30 years and to do the part I do, hand-thatching, takes about two or three years to train someone. To train them to a point where you could leave them on a job without having to repair their work completely. So, my workforce has pretty much come from, pot-luck. The universe has put somebody in my path, and they’ve come to work with me. I haven’t gone out and chosen anyone realistically for their skill sets.
So currently I have, three workers in the 65-66 category. I have myself at 58, and my other worker is 40, we don’t have a lot of youth on our team.
Matt: How do you and the team go when there are large numbers of meters to be built?
Rob: They’re tough.
Matt: I could just imagine with your team, fill me in, I have my opinions.
Rob: Well, the main game is to try and make sure you only take on the easy jobs. So that’s the first thing.
I look at the jobs, even though I could assure you every one of my workers would question my statement. Because as far as they’re concerned, every job we do, we seem to be going off to the Sahara Desert or going on a trek. Most of the jobs aren’t too bad. However, we’ve had a couple of jobs where we’ve had to carry gear over 100 meters. And that takes something, luckily the last time I was on a building site where that was the case, the builder lent me a few of his labourers to help.
Of course, our old boys were struggling pretty heavily by the time they went 100 meters. I tell you, a couple of them are smokers, and they did the walk-about twice. I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it.
It’s not easy finding the right younger generation to employ. Over the past six months we have been looking, but not wanting to be inundated, we went off to a couple of employment agencies. And then we even heard, better than just getting someone; they’re going to pay me some money to hire someone. So there was a couple of little games you could play with the state and the federal governments. They would give me a couple of workers, and if I employed them for six months straight, there was a $6K-$10K rebate that you could get back.
I thought I’d have one or two of those and see how we go, but unfortunately, the employment agency sent me a few resumes that were pretty much more of the same. And given that I already have a grey nomad working family, I didn’t want to add a few more 60-year old’s. They did offer me one 25 year old, but he had no license. Given that in my game we aren’t on a project for two years, we are at a new address every two or three days, getting the bus everywhere doesn’t always work.
That’s how my workforce has become the way it is, pure pot-luck and whoever the universe has put in front of me is what I’ve got.
I have brought in some sub-contractors from Queensland and New South Wales, guys I have a good relationship with and worked with previously. I was able to pick up the phone and ask them to come down and lend me a hand for a while. They have saved my bacon; they’re all very experienced, quick and very good at what they do.
Managing an older workforce
Matt: So it’s more like, you’re 60?
Matt: 58, sorry. My bad.
Rob: Very close to 60.
Matt: Please forgive me. Um, so seeing as the guys are, how do I put this politely?
Rob: Given that the guys are old and decrepit [laughing].
Matt: I wasn’t going too quite say that, but sure [lauging], we’ll roll with that.
Rob: Yeah, given the guys are old and decrepit, we do have to pace ourselves. And we try not to do too many hard physical days in a row.
It’s a bit like I have to have a clever, grey nomad management policy of my workers where I can’t do five hard days in a row. And when I say that, I’m old school, we knock off at midday on Friday anyway.
I do Saturday mornings but it’s not really work, it’s just playing. I only make them work four and a half days and our days aren’t too bad. Normally we don’t start before 7:00 am, and they’re normally tucked up, sitting at home by 3:00 – 4:00 pm and on the bad days, it’s 8:00 or 9:00.
Matt: In the morning?
Rob: In the evening [laughing]. Not many of those, but we have had a few where we’ve knocked off at 8:45 pm.
Matt: Oh wow. Right, I know I’d be questioning my life choices at that point [laughing].
Rob: Yeah, you do big time. I mean, there’s a limit to what you can ask of people. But a couple of times I have asked them to work late. And they’ve all been happy to do the late nights; it’s not a long-term life choice to get home at 8:30 at night though.
Matt: I can only imagine.
Rob: Yeah so it’s interesting for a small business how we find your workers. Mostly it has been word of mouth, but I’m still out there looking.
Matt: Like you said, just whatever comes along.
Rob: Whatever comes along, if they’re happy to try the work and as you said, the truth is with fencing, it’s not rocket science. It isn’t hard work.
Rob: I mean, it can be hard work, but there is not a lot of mental capacity required. It’s a little bit of common sense, a little bit of brute force and then just knowing the job. And, as you said, you did the one day with us.
So everyone knows, Matt didn’t do a hard day, it was a quite an easy day, but he did do a day with us. It’s a case of, finding someone who fits into the team as Matt found, it’s a long time with each other, so you want life to be a bit of fun. I’m very clear; we’re at work for a lot of hours a day, I don’t want people who don’t blend in too well. So, as you said, the people we work with was a lot more fun than the actual work.
Matt: It was a very good day.
Clients reception of the team
Rob: My employees are all unique characters, and that makes work a bit of fun. They’ve all got their own little things going on.
Matt: It’s one thing for you to be the owner of the business coming and knock on the door and all the rest. But how is the client’s reception when the team rocks up?
Rob: Well, mostly I warn them that my team might be a bit scary and don’t be offended by how they look. I’m mostly on song with my clients and where I can I’m a bit cheeky. With some of the clients, I am always a little bit keen for them to bake some scones or get some cakes or pie or put something on for us.
Not always appropriate in every house we go to, but for some, I’m in fighting for the team that we all get a fresh morning tea or a fresh something for lunch. And it works great. We did one job a couple of years ago in Mount Eliza and this delightful lady, decided every day she’d go and get us pies for morning tea. So each day we had a little treasure trove of cakes, and at lunch, we’d all get a pie or something.
Matt: Oh nice.
Rob: It was stunning, unusual though.
Most of my clients, being serious inside of looking at my workforce, they certainly raise their eyebrows as we walk through. They all look, I can see them looking at us thinking, “When’s somebody young going to turn up here?” Some of them have asked me, “Are they going to make it through the day, Rob?” So it’s always scary when your clients are coming up and say to you, “Do you think your workers are up for working for the whole day?”
Matt: I can understand their, um, concern, I had that moment too.
Matt: Alright Rob. Thanks my friend.
Rob: Thank you, Matt, anytime.
Matt: And I’ll see you sometime in the future.
Rob: See you sometime in the future. You might be back down working for me.
In the wake of the Carillion collapse, one of UK’s largest construction companies, there has been a lot of finger pointing to the company’s failure. And like everything in this industry, nothing is like it seems and we will never learn the full story. With Carillion’s collapse comes a timely reminder, and one I am sure we have all heard from time to time.
At the end of the day, we all love to get off-site as soon as we can, we lock up our tools and head off home. We are quite willing to take the chance that our tools and gear will still be on site in the morning. And for the most part, we get away with it. Yet, we always watch the old guys pack up all their tools and lug them off home each day.
Their experience over the years has taught them a thing or two, and one that is likely to be a surprise to many. And this is where Carillion comes in, where a principal contractor has collapsed.
Carillion’s due process
When a principal contractor (builder) goes into liquidation, administration, or receivership, whichever the case may be, the administrators come in and lock up the principal contractor’s assets. The administrators and receiver’s jobs are to evaluate and sell off the collapsed company’s assets to recover as much money as possible for the creditors.
Construction sites are deemed to be assets of the principal contractor. In most cases, the administrators will bring in security guards and change the site locks to keep the sites safe and secure. The security isn’t there to keep the public out; they are there to keep you out. The biggest risk to an administrator completing their job is the burnt subcontractors and workers.
Here is why:
When the receivers are on site they are completing a stock take and assessing items of value. Your tools and any gear left on site are likely to be included in the builder’s assets. Your tools and your bosses gear are now caught up in the financial and legal tangle of the failed principle contractor.
As the legal mess unfolds subcontractors and their employees are very likely to be the ones to break into the site and try to retrieve their tools and equipment. It’s not that you won’t get your tools back, you simply have to prove what is yours.
Lesson to from Carillion
Let’s be honest, just like everyone else on site, most of our tools are only marked with coloured paint. Getting your tools back could be likened to going to the police and identifying your stolen tools. You will information like serial numbers, engravings, photos, etc. which I highly doubt many of us can provide.
Now spare a thought for your boss, all the material and gear that they have onsite is now lost. Regardless of who paid and owned what items, the receivers now have control of the construction site and everything contained within site.
While everyone waits for the receivers and administrators to do their job, you and your boss are going to be short of everything left on that site. You can’t work without tools and neither can your employer.
Guess the old guys lugging their tools home every day were right when they would say, “take your tools home.”
Terex Corporation started back in the early 1930’s, and over the years they have developed into the brand that we know today. They have a few subsidiary’s that are familiar in the construction site; the mobile crane brand Demag, Genie working platforms; and the mighty Pick and Carry cranes or Franna for all the Australians.
But Terex is better known for their self-branded tower cranes. And that is for no other reason than the dominance a tower crane has over a construction site. As we move rapidly into the 21st century, the internet and social media are quickly replacing conventional media channels.
Like everyone, big business knows there is no point in advertising where no one is watching. And now we are seeing corporations shift their marketing towards the various social media platforms.
Various industries are beginning to find their preferred social media platforms, and construction is quickly settling on Instagram. Let’s be honest, we all love to show off on occasion, and Instagram lets us do that with pictures and even short videos.
And Terex is no expectation, they have had a corporate Instagram page since 2015. And over the last few weeks, Terex has started an Instagram page dedicated to cranes (@terexcranes). So why is this good news?
Why is Terex Cranes Instagram page good news?
Well, for most people this doesn’t mean a lot, but for all the “crane spotters” out there, this is great news. As a self-proclaimed crane spotter myself, it can be annoying taking great photos and not knowing who tag. When the owner or manufacture of a crane reposts our images, it’s the ultimate recognition of our craft.
For all the fellow crane spotters out there, you might have to go back through your Instagram page and tag Terex Cranes (@terexcranes) and begin using the hashtag #terexcranes.
Sorry Terex, you are about to get spammed by a very active crane spotting community.
If you are an AFL fan (Australian Football League), you likely have heard of Stephen McBurney. Stephen reached the highly regarded milestone of umpiring over 400 games alongside four other greats.
Stephen comes into the ABCC commissioner role with quite an extensive legal career. Between the years of 2006-08 Stephen was the ABCC assistant commissioner (Legal) responsible for implementation of compliance powers.
The past nine years Stephen was working in the Victorian Office of Chief Examiner, assisting Victorian Police with investigations into serious organised crime.
Stephen McBurney’s new appointment as the ABCC commissioner comes at a time when tensions between unions, construction companies and the government are at an all-time high.
With the booming Australian construction industry across the private and public sectors, the ABCC will have its hands full as it has now come into full legislative power.
Who is the ABCC?
What does this mean for construction? We first need to understand the ABCC role. The Department of Justice, often referred to on-site, as the “Department of Safety” (WHS), are the watchdogs for all things related to Occupational Health and Safety. Whereas the ABCC is the watchdog of everything business related. Basically, the ABCC watch over unions and the construction industry’s industrial relation matters.
The ABCC role is to review and enforce the “Building Code 2016” which outlines how companies are to perform when undertaking Federal construction works. In short, the code aims to keep the CFMEU and other unions in check and operating consistent with all current industrial relation laws.
To give you an example of what that might look like; strikes that take place over menial matters similar to the firing of a union member could be considered illegal. Whereas striking over continual unsafe work conditions would be legal, broadly speaking.