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#002 CCF Helping Contractors In South Australia

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How The Civil Contractors Federation Is Helping Contractors in South Australia

{These transcripts have been auto-generated, while largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jordan Skinner: [00:00:00]  
Hello everybody. And welcome back to the Crushing It In Construction podcast. I am your host, Jordan Skinner, and I have another really great guest on the show for you today. Her name is Rebecca Pickering and she is the CEO of the Civil Contractors Federation in South Australia. Now, Rebecca really is a very interesting woman.

Not only has she worked hard and wound up as the CEO of an organization, she’s ran her own business. She’s raising young kids and somehow has found the time to become an ultra marathon runner. It makes my eyes water and legs hurt at the same time, just thinking about it. But in today’s episode, Rebecca and I just spent some time talking about the industry in general, we spoke about the issues that she sees businesses struggling with and how the Civil Contractors Federation is helping their members to tackle those issues.

And it was just a very fun conversation. I think you’re really going to enjoy the episode and get something valuable out of it. So without further ado, let’s get into the show.

 Hi Rebecca, how’s it going?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:00:57]
Good thankyou how are you?

Jordan Skinner: [00:00:58]
Yeah, not bad. Thanks. Thanks very much for coming on the show and giving us your time today. So if we could just start off for everybody that doesn’t know you, if you could just give us a 60 to 90 seconds run through of who you are and what it is you do?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:01:11]
So my name is Rebecca Pickering. I am the current CEO for Civil Contractors Federation South Australia. And I’m also the executive director for civil apprenticeships and careers, so my background is in mining and commercial construction. Think im coming up to 24 next year. I’ve run my own businesses in the background at the same time, consulting for business, particularly tradies and smaller businesses that are really good technically, but some struggle with the business and the cashflow and the finance element.

So yea I’ve had a really remarkable career in an amazing industry. I wouldn’t work anywhere else, and I’m really blessed to love what i do.

Jordan Skinner: [00:01:46]
So, how did you actually get into construction in the first place?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:01:48]
So I’m not a uni-kid. I grew up in a suburb down in our down south Adelaide, Christie Downs, which isn’t the best suburb in Adelaide.

Unfortunately it’s not a privileged suburb. It’s not the most fantastic suburb that you’d like to live in and at the time, my main motivation through high school was to get out of that suburb as quickly as I could. So for me, that meant that I started working through high school and I was lucky enough through year twelve coming out and doing a diploma with TAFE at the time in business.

And with that diploma, I was lucky enough to get some contract work with Western Mining at the time,on the Olympic Dam expansion project, amazing opportunity being so young, working in a massive team. And I think my love of infrastructure really took on from there. So luckily for me, I did a few bit’s of contract work.

Um, you know, through that time of my life, I never really left construction and, uh, fell into Built & Byrons, which is big commercial business at the time. And I stayed with them for 11 years and then moved on from there.

Jordan Skinner: [00:02:44]
So, how did you eventually transition into the position that you’re in now with the CCF?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:02:49]
Yeah so a lot of hard work, although I did lots of short courses and have always studied, so I’ve never really stopped learning i feel it all came together for me in my mid-thirties, late thirties doing my Master Of Business.

So I did do my MBA, which I think just bought all of my experience and skills together. I took on a general management and a director of operations role with Master Builders, South Australia for about five years ago now, which is again, is a great stepping stone into the current role that I have now as CEO.

But I think the real growth came for me came in running my own business and understanding it’s no rest when you’re doing it for yourself. When I think the level of respect that teaches you can’t be landing in a book or working for someone else, it gives me a huge amount of appreciation for business and, and yeah.

Working anywhere.

Jordan Skinner: [00:03:37]
So what are some of the main things that CCF helps its members do?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:03:42]
Yeah. So there’s a couple of arms of Civil Contracts Federations. So we have the lobbying and advocacy, so this is the side of the business that talks to business and industry, and then talks to politicians, whether it be local members, federal, other stakeholders or agencies about things that impact or challenge a business or things that we need.

So, for example, right now we’re working on um, more apprentices in our market. So we’ve got a stronger workforce. We work on obviously the traditional things, red tape production and our efficiencies and challenges for small business. Making sure that we have greater sovereignty for South Australia. So a lot more of our work stays here for our current businesses and industry.

So that’s one side, the lobbying and advocacy. We have a civil training side as well. So we run a registered training organization, which trains our industry. And this does all of your things like plant operations. You can do cert 4 in supervision and construction, everything you need in order to maintain your career in, in infrastructure and what we do.

And then the third arm, the independent entity or the, I guess the newest kid on the block is civil apprenticeships and careers. And that’s a group training organization, which employees only civil apprentices for our industry.

Jordan Skinner: [00:04:52]
So the civil apprenticeship side of things was something that pricked my ears up.

When you were talking about that. I know from working within the industry myself, that getting people interested in the industry as a whole is a massive issue. What are you seeing around that?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:05:06]
Oh, a hundered percent, I think, and particularly for civil construction, no one knows what civil construction is, unless you work in it, so its been a number one issue for me coming into this role.

So I’ve only been in this role for the last year, but we’re re-working our then strategy into something more modern and dynamic. It really was about educating the community, our kids, our youth on what civil construction is and the amazing careers that the industry has. So I think when I first started.

There wasn’t many high schools that knew who we were VET coordinators or career counselors had no idea what the pathways into our industry were. So I think now just then to see that turn for the first time ever, we now have a stackable VET option for year 12 kids to get a taste of an apprenticeship in our industry. And if they do that program, then they get the safeway into working with us or other GTO’s in our trade.

So I think we’re getting, there was still a lot of work to do. We’re not as well funded as mainstream trades. YOu have doorways to construction in, in school presently, which is your carpentry, your brick work. All those traditional trades with we’ve had in construction for a long time, but civil construction still sits on outer edge of that and we still have a lot of work to do, but nothing wrong with being a bit of an underdog and we’ll get there.

And I think for us, in civil construction, because our apprenticeship has nine streams within it, um, it really does set us well apart from everyone else.

Jordan Skinner: [00:06:22]
So do you think there’s a reason that the civil construction side of things just isn’t represented, why do you think that is?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:06:28] Yeah. I think they’ve been quite achievers this for way too long. I think when you’d go out into the community and you say like it’s infrastructure would really know is what it is.

And I think we just to let that slide for too long, you know, nothing in this public relm that we live in everyday happens without civil construction. And I think that’s a byproduct of us not selling ourselves enough. It’s a byproduct of us just getting on and getting the job done. And perhaps in the fact that it hasn’t been perceived as being a glamorous and sexy industry, as opposed to something like building or defense or IT, or cyber you know, it’s a very traditional old school trade, but Jesus lucrative and can provide you a really secure future to get into

Jordan Skinner: [00:07:06]
yeah. So, so when you’re working with these apprentices every day and no doubt, you’re coming into contact with a lot of business owners as well, the things you’re hearing from, I suppose, the business owners point of view. When it comes to trying to find, you know, apprentices. I know everybody I speak to is struggling to find talent

Rebecca Pickering: [00:07:21]
A hundred percent. I don’t think it’s just apprentices either. I think it’s the entire workforce at the moment, whether you want skilled labor or entry-level or, or apprentices, it’s really quiet difficult at the moment in this current economy to find, um, not only people that want to work, but people that fit the industry as well

in our industry, you really do need to enjoy early starts, you need to enjoy, you know, getting out there and using your heads and feet. It’s no good. If you want a desk job, thats not what we’re about and you need to be able to travel around a little bit as well. You know, we work all over the state. So it really is quite important that you have those personal attributes.

I think those sorts of things, you need your license, particularly if you’re an apprentice, you need to pass a drug and alcohol test as well. You need to be medically fit to work in our industry. The challenges and the barriers to entry are there, and we can work through them. It’s just trying to build up, I guess, that pipeline and that funnel of opportunity.

So we can slate some good assets to work with this.

Jordan Skinner: [00:08:15]
So what do you think that companies themselves can be doing to try and fill that pipeline for themselves.

Rebecca Pickering: [00:08:20]
Again, coming from a small business, I fully understand that you don’t want to commit to an apprentice and our apprenticeships a three-year apprenticeship. It makes it really hard for you to commit when you’re a good business owner to, you know, this young person for three years, I think the best avenue, just for businesses to use group training organizations like us.

So that means that if you’re running Jordans Earthmoving, for example, you can come to us say, Hey, Beck, I’ve got a job for the next six weeks. Got an opportunity, really want to invest back in my state and give a kid a go. You can connect with us. We can give you an apprentice for that six weeks with no commitments, no requirement for you to carry them for three years, and then you just send them straight back.

So I think the greatest opportunity where small business want to get involved and really promote more up and succession planning for their businesses as well which is the other thing we find, there is no one to pass on the legacy to, get involved with a GTO and they could really help you and provide you some, some good opportunities.

and often explain to businesses and our apprentices its a little bit like dating, you know, you can be the best apprentice. You can be the best host, but you guys don’t get on from a personality perspective. Yeah. It’s just not going to work so we can chop and change apprentices and host to find that really good fit.

And hopefully it’s a relationship that we can start for life, you know, when these kids come out of their trade and then they’ve got these really great employers that they can work for, and maybe even, you know, take on that business or set up their own, which would be absolutely incredible for our state.

Jordan Skinner: [00:09:40]
Yeah. And I suppose one thing that you said there that was interesting is succession planning side of things.

Do you help companies with that part as well at CCF?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:09:50]
Yeah, a hundred percent. I think that that’s the heartbreaking thing for us is that our workforce is getting older. It’s certainly aging, or we don’t have a replenishment rate that makes for a sustainable industry right now so that’s a real issue for us.

And we are seeing a lot of businesses that don’t have sons and daughters that want to pick up the business, the family business. So if we can connect those, that wisdom and that, that expert with someone new and someone that loves this industry, then I think for us that that’s the perfect ultimate thing that we’re working towards, because it really does break your heart.

When you see these businesses that have operated for 50, 60, 70 years, and then, they just fold cause theyve got no one to pass it on to, and then these are great lucrative businesses too.

Jordan Skinner: [00:10:31]
So do you think that comes down to maybe whether their sons or daughters or whatever it is not wanting to take it on, do you think the industry has a bit of an image problem?

And like, actually, you touched on this before. It’s not sexy enough, is it.

Rebecca Pickering: [00:10:42]
Potentially, I think it’s a bit of that thing. If you take close to it, you can’t see it. Maybe a little bit of taking it for granted perhaps as well. You know, the world isnt always greener on the otherside, I don’t know about you but I’d much rather a job where i can strap on my steelies and hang outside for a bit than be stuck, you know, doing some, some accounting or, you know, stuff behind a desk all day in an office, not having that freedom to build.

And I think the biggest thing for me is. Trying to generate that appreciation, whether you are in a family business, you just not seeing it because maybe their seeing it for perhaps negativity, you know, working hard. And you know, it is a, it is a dirty job, but not having that appreciation. You know what your driving past these big, amazing bridges and roads and this huge infrastructure assets that you know, your family has built, that you’ve been appart of, you cant say that if youre an accountant or a lawyer.

Jordan Skinner: [00:11:28]
Yeah. And I think our industry, you know, there’s a lot of exactly what you just said. There’s a lot of pride that goes into being able to drive down the road and say, you know, I built this road or, or I built this tunnel or whatever it is. And it is a shame to see, you know, less people coming into the industry.

But from my perspective, it comes down to businesses as individuals maybe need to do a little bit more to make their business sexy. You know, it’s not up to, you know, just the CCF or just the government or just somebody else to make things look good. I guess we need to make it look more appealing from the outside

Rebecca Pickering: [00:12:02]
Yeah it’s been a big issue.

trying to self promoted, we don’t do it well as Australians anyway, we’re a bit of a humble bunch that, you know, you just have to get on with it and she’ll be right mate and you know, it’ll work its self out. But no, you really do have to be shameless in promoting your industry now, otherwise you just won’t get where you need to be.

I go to schools and talk to a lot of kids and promote all the pathways that we have and yet, you know, i’m standing up there with my A4 piece of paper and my not so glossies and I’m standing next to the fence guy that’s got these whizzbang videos and. Oh, well, all I can promise you is maybe a six figure salary or, you know, your own business and be your own boss.

Yeah. Having said that, I think once kids understand what our industry can provide them. If I work hard. Yeah it pretty much opens up for them. Yeah.

Jordan Skinner: [00:12:51]
And that’s somebody that that’s pretty technically savvy with computers and stuff like that. I mean, this industry is, is a long way behind a lot of other industries when it comes to technology and, you know,

Rebecca Pickering: [00:13:02]
You’d think so, but we’re actually not, no, not actually. When you look at, um, what we do and like you look at what we build those bridges and the Darlington one, particularly and some regional jobs, those engineer’s and those workforces can deliver these mammoth projects or offsets within millimeter perfect so bringing those bridge sections. You know, that’s, that’s a heavy use of technology to make that happen from a surveying perspective.

It really is quite a technical high-end industry. I just, I think it has this perception because we are in the dirt and we do move earth that somehow that, that doesn’t require technology, but it does, you can get into mobile plant-based dyes and it’s fully kitted out. You push the button.

It’s almost to a point now where our kids, if the button didn’t work or the assistant, didn’t tell them what grading and levels they’re going to they’ll struggle to run it. It’s really impressive. Some of these machines they run. Incredable.

Jordan Skinner: [00:13:58]
Yeah. Yeah. And that was one of the reasons I always liked the industry is the amount of engineering and all that sort of stuff that goes into the machines is, is fantastic.

Rebecca Pickering: [00:14:07]
Blows your mind with all of the drawing stuff as well that is coming out, you know, space and satellite, you’ve got mining using autonomous machines and dumpies. It’s just so much going on in the space. And I think when I talk to kids, it’s always about promoting the opportunities there for as much as we’ll tec up and we’ll have all these great things that can assist us to do what we do.

We’ll always still need arms and legs. So it’s never going to be a position where we can get robots or clever machines to do what we do. You always still going to need someone to, to build the machine, make sure the machine is doing the right thing, spot it. Now watch out. There’s so much still that needs to be done.

So you’ve got a roof in civil and unfortunately for the other trades. you cant put hand on heart and say its as secure, as lucrative as what we do, because at the end of the day, a lot of our work comes from state and local government and private as well. We’re never going to run out of money. These assets, roads, bridges, tunnels, all need to be maintained.

Same with social infrastructures like hospitals and schools and car parks all these sorts of things need an industry to look after it. And that’s us, so yeah, you’ll never run out of clients or money to pay your bills or feed your family or set yourself up.

Jordan Skinner: [00:15:15]
Yeah. So when you’re talking to contractors in your day to day, what are some of the biggest issues that they’re raising to you and struggles that they’re facing?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:15:24]
Yeah, I think that the old one that I’ve heard for two decades now is again, lumpy procurement. So not enough consistency in work coming out to market. A lot of these businesses that gear up, get ready for project start. You know, you then have delays with projects start, then you’ve got plant, equipment.

You’ve got your workforce sitting around waiting unnecessarily. You cant out go tender because our tendering cycle doesn’t work that quickly either. So lumpy procurement is certainly a big one. Unfair risk allocation is probably another one that were starting to see. we’ve seen it It for a long time, but we started seeing much more of it.

It’s a very litigous world that we live in, where big principal contractors, you know, push down some risks to smaller contractors and supply chain that don’t have the capacity to wear that risk, or they don’t know or understand what they’re signing up to as well, sometimes. Which is cause for concern.

And you’ve got delays when the project starts, which we spoke about. Supply chain in another one.

I dont think you’ll talk to any tradie that You know, is sort of rolling in timber or rio or concrete or, PVC pipe. So not only can’t you find it, but then when you can find it, it’s, you know, double the price. It’s not getting any cheaper. We’ve got a lot of compounding issues. And then on top of that, trying to find resources to actually meet your needs.

Jordan Skinner: [00:16:39]
Yeah. So is there anything happening with industry to try and help the procurement process?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:16:43]
Yep. So we’re doing a lot work with, um, state government, both locally at state level to try and smooth out that pipeline of work, uh, trying to set up different relationships so that a smaller business has greater diversity with its client in that a state government is release or, you know, getting those projects that you need, that you’ve got other work to keep you going in the meantime.

We certainly won’t see the growth or investment in businesses if we can’t work that out, that businesses will just hold over and keep to the size they are. There’s no point them investing. If they can’t get that guaranteed support the growth that they, they think they can capitalize on. We certainly need to work on that, so it’s relationships, its continuing lobbying and advocacy and encouraging businesses to let people like myself know when there are issues.

It’s all well and good for me to bang on and talk generally. But when I actually have specific examples, that’s where I really found to have traction and can really make a difference. So it really is trying to activate that voice in areas that can actually make a difference.

Jordan Skinner: [00:17:39]
Yeah. And I think that when you and I spoke a few weeks ago, we were talking about this procurement process and how that, you know, knocks onto cashflow and people making decisions that they probably otherwise wouldn’t accepting jobs that really, you know, you’ve got a principal contractor or something saying, you know, do it for this price or I’ll find somebody else to do it.

And then they end up taking on that particular job at a price point that’s silly because you know, they’re being stretched so far between jobs, you know, something’s better than nothing. Are you seeing anybody, you know, fighting against this?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:18:09]
we Talked to contractors all the time.

That’s part of our primary job is to be that intermediate between some of those relationships. So just connecting it and I guess having an independent voice between two parties to try and work out a solution. There’s no one in the entire chain of a project wants anyone to, to not be able to work with deliver.

No one wants it to see anyone file. Cause that means the project will have its difficulties. So everyone wants to see things succeed its is just working through some of those things. And sometimes it’s explaining to certain parties why things wont work and way, or trying to work through alternative pathways to the same outcome.

And that could be things like, working thourgh different levels of progress claiming on breaking it down or trying to get claims in sooner and doing them in smaller chunks so that any disputes or variations can be hashed out earlier, rather than doing a bigger chunks, there are so many different ways that we can work through it.

But if you don’t talking about it and you sort of just saying she’ll be right, it gets to a point where it’s actually not. You’re really up against it, your principal contractor or your client’s really annoyed at you and sort of throwing their arms up in the air saying, like, what are you doing? It’s it’s yeah, it’s really quite desperate.

So the biggest piece of advice is yeah. Talk to people ,like myself, you know, engage with the client as early as you can. And just take those conversations, that communication open, too work through things. And you know, when you do fall on those frustrations, or if you’re not getting through then let myself know you’ve got small business commissioner as well.

You’ve got a number of avenues from a state perspective to help small business work through these issues as well. Security payments legislational, all those sorts of things that, that are available to ensure that small businesses arent taken for granted and that they’re given that fair go.

Jordan Skinner: [00:19:47]
Definitely a tough industry. There’s a lot to keep your finger on as far as, you know, trying to be, you know, ahead of everything as it changes, but it’s definitely a rewarding industry.

Yeah. And I think it, it, it does a certain type of person, you know, if you don’t want to be cooped up inside all day, tapping on a keyboard or whatever, it’s a very good industry for those types of people, you know? Cause that’s not for every body .

Rebecca Pickering: [00:20:11]
Correct. And those people that learn a bit differently, there’s people that actually want to be doing things for their hands.

It’s like, if you’re not like, I’m not an academic learner, I like to be out there doing things. And wonder my way through it. So I think if you’re that way inclined then yeah and to be honest, I think it’s a better career opportunity for you too. Cause you could still be a CEO for a big business its just your pathways, just going to be different.

And I think if anything, for kids today, it provides a much more resilient and thorough working dynamic cause a person that you can work human beings and that those relationships that you need while also understanding street smarts and business smarts, all those sorts of things. Right now, when we try to work with a university student, that can’t hold a conversation, you know, pick up the phone and talk to someone because they’re, so I guess used to working behind a computer screen.

 theyre not used of having this type of interaction, it really is quite confronting when you standing in front of someone, having a difficult conversation about something. So we certainly have a lot to work through.

Jordan Skinner: [00:21:10]
 Yeah. Well, I hope it all works out. Cause it’s, you know, like we said before with yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s it without this industry, it’s where we’re all, you know, not in a good spot.

Rebecca Pickering: [00:21:21]
no, you wont get to work And there’s no water in the taps. This pretty much nothing if we’re not working. Yeah.

Jordan Skinner: [00:21:26]
That’s it. Um, well, it’s been great. I just want to close out with a couple of questions. The first one being, if you could go back to the start of your career, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Rebecca Pickering: [00:21:36]
Maybe trust yourself a little bit more. Cause I think when you’re younger, you’re going to go through that self doubt. I never said no to any job. And no task was either too big or too small for me to do. I guess it would have been more enjoyable if I trusted myself younger, but I don’t think that comes into when you’ve got more experience under your belt.

I think that’s, that’s earned with time. So I think if you can impress that on to a younger you i think that would be marvelous I’m not sure what it would fall on, I guess, the mind as readily as it should. But I think if you could try and get. A younger version of yourself to trust itself better or more quickly. Yeah.

Jordan Skinner: [00:22:15]
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s one of those things in that chicken or the egg confidence doesn’t always come easily when you’re young. So it’s. Yeah. And where can everybody get in touch with you? Learn more about the CCF and just connect with you online.

Rebecca Pickering: [00:22:29]
Yes. So they can contact yourself and you can hook them up with our contact details, or you can hop onto our website, which is www

or, you can also hop onto our other website for the apprenticeships. So if anybody’s looking to get into the trade, we’re employing, we always are, we can never have enough apprentices. You can hop on to our website, which is and we can take the journey from there.

Jordan Skinner: [00:22:56]
All right. No worries. Thanks very much for your time

Rebecca Pickering: [00:22:58]
Our pleasure. Thank you very much.