As a general manager and construction manager, Chris Nock has been actively involved in the industry since the mid-1980s and has worked within the field across South Africa, the UK and Australia.

Now the Queensland’s Construction Manager for Pellicano Builders, Chris has witnessed firsthand the changes and challenges facing the industry. Davidson Projects & Operations Consultant Merryn Thomlinson sat with Chris recently to discuss the future of the building and property industry and how future generations can best prepare.

Chris discusses the all-round skills shortage currently facing the industry; what he looks for in new employees; what we can do to encourage young people into the industry; and new innovations revolutionising the future productivity of the industry.

What has been your career pathway to date?

I completed a Bachelor of Science in Building Management at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1984. In the mid-80s, I left South Africa and moved to the UK to work on-site based roles. I moved to Australia in ’87 and worked on-site based roles, until I joined FKP in ‘92 where I moved from a Site Supervisory role to a Construction Manager role in the mid-90s. I have held General Manager and Construction Manager roles ever since.

What effect do you think technology will have on the industry in the next 10 to 20 years?

We are starting to see more advancements in certain aspects of what we do, but for the most part relating to building structures in particular, the changes in material technology has not been overly dynamic.

I think we are still stuck with traditional materials we have used for hundreds of years being concrete, bricks and mortar. There are some interesting advancements in the actual delivery of structure though the areas such as the adoption of modular construction techniques. It is certainly gaining momentum, which in turn offers clear advantages in speed and quality, but this appears to have a more beneficial and popular application in the area of finishes.

There are noticeable areas of advancement in green and energy efficiency initiatives.  Similarly advancements in finishing products occur from time-to-time.  Energy efficient cladding and glazing advancements are two areas that come to mind. There are some interesting advancements in the areas of design and design coordination, estimating, cost management and document control areas through the software packages that are currently available.

I can see as a result of this that certain disciplines will fundamentally disappear and others will become more prevalent, but for the actual delivery of the building structure itself we are still stuck with the format of people, traditional concrete, bricks and mortar for the foreseeable future.

What trends do you see happening in the market at the moment?

Residential construction is where the majority of the activity is at the moment in South East Queensland and that is driven by a number of factors. The major factors being the emerging Asian market, their investors and low interest rates.

The mining sector has slowed down, so all levels of government appear to be actively looking to encourage construction activity. It is evident that there is a lot of people moving money out of Asia that in turn is going into these residential projects.

How long that goes for nobody knows, but from past experiences it would appear that we have probably two or three years to run, what for us is, the latest mini-boom.

What do you think we need to be doing today to prepare for tomorrow?

We definitely have an all-round skills shortage. The industry need to be more proactive in providing incentives in encouraging young people into our industry. Unfortunately, activity in our industry is cyclical and quite often by the time they complete their training there aren’t any guarantees that there won’t be a slowdown in construction.

However the overall trend, driven simply by population growth, makes our industry an attractive one to be involved in.

What innovations, that our counterparts overseas are doing, that we should be aware of?

Modulisation. We need explore to this more.  A huge slice of the European and Asian residential construction markets have adopted modular construction as the standard. Doing as much assembly off-site, modulising and prebuilding and basically bringing it to site in large components that simply get craned and bolted in to sections has tangible benefits for the builder.

This trend ultimately assists in dealing to some degree in addressing the current skills shortage. The Hickory Group in Victoria is a prime example of taking advantage of this process. They bought in some of the old Ford workers that had been made redundant with the closure of the motor industry plants and utilised their expertise within their factory to produce high quality modular bathroom units.

They have taken their skills and applied them to our industry with great success.

What do you look for in new recruits?

I would put enthusiasm and integrity as my primary considerations. Expertise and academic qualifications are a consideration, but at the end of the day it is not an overriding prerequisite.

Quite often, I find some of the best employees are those that have done a trade initially and then wanted something more, so they have motivated themselves and worked at the same time and studied and then got the academic qualification to support and complement their practical knowledge.

Longevity with past employers is certainly a consideration. Looking at the environment they come from and compare it to the environment that you are going to be putting them in.

For example, we are very much active in the design and construct arenas so I look for people with that background and experience. I also look for people who want to expand their horizons and don’t simply want to be pigeonholed into being just be an administrator or just be an estimator.

They ideally need to have an interest and show a flair for other disciplines, within what we do as builders.

And in the next five years?

I think the main challenge will be getting skilled people across the board. The move towards greener technologies will be a task in itself and we will need to be building smarter, greener buildings quicker and more efficiently. Finding the people who have the skills to deliver them across the spectrum will be a challenge.

Modular technology and delivery systems will continue to become more in vogue simply because of the skills shortage. More componentry will be assembled off-site. Importation of overseas product due to the high costs of local labour will continue to grow.

What do you think the next generation needs to be aware of and focus on to be successful in the construction industry?

Every new generation witnesses the continued and exponential growth of technologies around them. By nature the newer generations are less likely to be intimidated by technologies and more likely to embrace it, work with it and reap the rewards.

Our industry is no different. Building is constantly becoming more complex. With all of the smart technologies that the market is demanding we need to be ahead of the game. Smart buildings, efficient and green buildings – we need to embrace these technologies and have a clear understanding how these are applied for the benefit of the end user.

Merryn Thomlinson is a Consultant with Davidson Project & Operations team and this is the first in her series of interviews on the subject of the future world of work in the construction industry.