In 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
First, 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.
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.
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.”
Matt: The podcast was back in April, and the podcast went into your past in depth. With that, I’m not going to go too much into your history, aside from your 27 years old and you now have ten employees.
How Nicholson Builders has changed since April
Heath: We currently have 12 employees.
Matt: I recommend that everyone takes some time and have a listen to Martin’s podcast. Let’s talk about how business has been after the podcast in April.
Heath: I think in the podcast I was talking about the issues surrounding cash flow and all the standard problems that come with running a business.
Heath: Not long after the podcast, I bounced back and was going great. We are now in a position where we have grown another few levels. We have more staff; more overheads, and we are back in a similar situation. It all seems to be a pattern that occurs in business, so we are used to it now. Never the less, everything is still the same, except that we are doing a lot more work, with approximately 15 to 20 jobs on the go at the moment.
We are continually moving our guys around, as well chasing more good builders and contractors. As you know, finding the right people is one of the hardest things with running a construction business. However, everything is all going well.
Heath’s other business venture, Brother Pablo
Matt: How is the coffee shop (Brother Pablo) working out? Back in April you were halfway through setting up the store and started roasting your own coffee beans.
Heath: Yeah good, it is turning out a lot different to how I thought it would turn out. The coffee shop is very successful, we are about to start the wine bar side of the business. We are applying for a liquor license, and that is a living nightmare.
Matt: In my days as a site manager, a lot of the tradesmen had had enough of their respective trades. They would throw around the comment that they should go and start a coffee shop, something nice and easy. What do you say to that?
Heath: [Laughs] I am thinking the same thing at the moment.
I love running a construction business, it’s good money, good fun, challenging and there is always a lot going on. We get to meet a lot of people and do some cool jobs. Like most of the guys out there, it is the stress, the liability, the risk that adds up, especially when you start getting to this level. You begin to question where does it all end. You start waiting for it to all fall over or something bad to happen because it’s so likely that it will.
I have learnt to live with the stress, so it’s not too bad. I have more days than not wondering why I am doing this when I could go and work in my coffee shop. Maybe I should move to Queensland and open a coffee shop on the beach. It’s definitely a valid thought when you’re in this position.
Would you start Nicholson Builders all over again?
Matt: If you were to do it again, would you do it all again?
Heath: Yep, I think I would, just for the fact that it has all got me to where I am today.
It’s helped establish my family and our home. We have built a few homes because we can build them cheaper to help create our asset base. I mean the only reason we could afford the coffee shop was because we had equity in our home. The business has helped me learn and grow as a business owner and as a person, but also how to manage money.
Especially the stress that comes with managing millions of dollars. There aren’t too many businesses you can start at the age of 23 and handle millions of dollars. So I think I would do it all again to gain the knowledge and everything that has come from the business.
Nicholson Builders winning awards
Matt: What has been your proudest achievement to date?
Heath: My proudest achievement would have to be the Master Builders award we just won. The award took me by surprise, especially the fact that it was my first home I have ever built. It was our family home.
Matt: [Looking at the camera] Master builders is a national building association here in Australia.
Heath: I felt away out of my league being up on stage making a speech, and receiving the award. That was a considerable achievement; I loved it.
Heath: I have been to a few charity events lately and with my business dealings around town. I have come up on the radar of a few people in the council, and they invited me along to see if I was interested in the Chamber of Commerce. So I just sat in my first Chamber of Commerce board meeting yesterday.
It was pretty cool to watch how they work and the input they have in the community and council. These guys are nudging and keeping council accountable for what they’re doing and how they’re looking after small business in the area. So, being a business owner in Shepparton, and the frustrations I have with the council, it is a perfect opportunity being on the board.
That elusive work-life balance
Matt: You are a big family man, how does the business allow for family time?
Heath: It doesn’t. It’s hard. Look, I never advise anybody on work-life balance because I just don’t think there is a set formula.
Matt: Now that you employ a construction manager and a sales team is that allowing you to step back?
Heath: They are absolutely allowing me to step back, and that’s the plan to get the business to a point where I can stand back. Not necessarily be able to walk away entirely but where I can sit back, sell or whatever I want. To do that I’ve got the team and a system in place that it can run without me. So that plan allows me to spend more time with the family.
Matt: And you have your supervisors walking around the different job sites recording about the various projects. How was the request to start recording stories received by the guys on site?
Heath: Yeah, all I can say is that they’re all still nervous about recording the stories. I think some of them secretly love it. You can probably tell from some of the videos they can get a bit weird, but they know that it’s something that I’m implementing and it just needs to happen. It’s documenting what we do, and I can’t get to all the jobs all the time, so I have asked my boys to do it. And they’re excellent about it.
They need constant reminding because they don’t take it upon themselves and think, “I am going to film this today” and do it. It’s only when I remind them too that they do the stories.
Matt: One of your Instagram videos you are flying a drone from your front door over to a job site. Did the boys notice the drone? And did you receive a phone call afterwards?
Heath: They saw it coming, and in the video, you can see them poking their level and throwing nails at the drone. They knew straight away who it was.
Walking through the heart of Sydney city, there are construction sites everywhere. You have what feels like every second city street having the new 12km light rail being built by Acciona. Then there is all the high-rise construction happening throughout the city and surrounding areas. For perspective, the RBL crane index has listed Sydney as having 334 cranes erected in the second quarter of 2017. Sydney currently has over 50% of Australia’s tower crane population.
Pro Build’s Greenland Centre building
Of all the work that is happening, there is one construction site that stands out, one that everyone recognise. That is Pro Build’s Greenland Centre building. At the moment the original 1960’s building steel structure rises high, which will be incorporated into the new building’s structure.
Looking from the street, the skeleton, the remaining steel structure of the old building has a presence of its own. So much so, that photos of the structure have been flooding Instagram. This building can almost be used as a point of reference to anyone visiting the city.
The trouble that Sydney photographers are facing is, who has that one image that sets them apart. That photo that puts them ahead of the pack. There is everything from the street view, to window reflections and far away zoom pictures.
Who has the best photo?
Well, I guess, who has the best image is a question more of personal choice. For the time being, we have a short window of opportunity to try and capture that one special photo.
The rumour on the street is Pro Build has the new concrete structure up to ground level. So if you are looking to get a great photo, you may only have a few months before this unique view disappears.
Take a search on Instagram using the hashtag #greenlandcentre, #greenlandcentresyd and #greenlandcentresydney to find a few more images. Also, if you search the hashtag #towercranes, you will find a scattering of some of the images that feature this unique view of the Greenland Centre building. I will let you be the judge to which photo is the standout.
Leave a comment below about any interesting photos you find of this soon to be hidden Sydney gem.
When I spoke with Marc and Holly from Clem Carpentry, I figured that I would be writing about one of their projects. However, it was their business and how they have tackled some of the challenges that grabbed my attention.
Clem Carpentry’s niche market
Marc and Holly have found themselves in the niche market of high-end renovations, in their words “elegant restorations and renovations.” A boutique market that in my opinion puts a builders reputation on the line with every project.
I have a special spot in my heart for renovations, particularly with high-end and old buildings. The whole challenge, do you make your work plumb and level? Or do you match the existing building, so it all flows? The kind of work that tests all of us as tradesmen. From what Marc and Holly have shared with me, they are not only up for the challenge; they are excelling.
They are an impressive team; Marc is the carpenter and builder, and Holly is an interior designer. With their niche, they have the perfect team. They both enjoy working on older homes, which in Queensland Australia we call Queenslander’s.
Their well-suited teamwork is evident when a client asked them to replace the front stairs and restore the old homes character. They took what looks like an old 70’s style steel stairs and handrails and have created era perfect timber set.
Their attention to detail is second to none. With Holly providing well-detailed drawings and Marc’s attention to the seemly small details. For example, the priming of the step treads before being installed. And the housing out of the timber stump to allow the stairs to sit hard against the weatherboards at the top of the stairs.
Unique approach to challenges
A challenge that the Clem Carpentry have been confronting is the expectations that reality television shows in Australia have put on the industry. Shows like “The Block” have been making renovating bathrooms, kitchens, etc., look achievable in a single week. And yes, we all know that it can be done, at a high cost and exceptionally long hours. Marc and Holly find that the younger generations have an unrealistic expectation of the cost and the time it takes to renovate.
I find it fascinating that sometimes our biggest hurdles in business are not always our direct competition. And the way in which people and business approach these obstacles is equally fascinating. How Marc and Holly from Clem Carpentry have approached the unrealistic expectations that reality tv has created is unique and well thought out.
To help their clients understand the time things take with a sensible budget, they turned to YouTube. Making short videos of the different projects, they have completed, not only demonstrating their work but also a realistic time frame to complete the work. By using time lapses, they have managed to combat the expectations reality tv has directly installed in different people.
Construction is a unique industry, and again I have been surprised how I thought one thing before meeting Marc and Holly from Clem Carpentry. My thoughts have been turned in a direction I didn’t expect, and I am so glad for the new direction.
Marc and Holly are easy going people following their passions and in the process making other people’s dreams a reality. I’m stoked that I got the opportunity to meet them.