Fishing for Jobs

I find myself in the job market. Trolling and sending resumes to the ubiquitous employment consultant, and not holding my breath for immediate positive feedback. Having decided on a break from the slings and arrows of site based project management I decided to take some time to catch up on several tasks that have escaped my attention over the last couple of years. New kitchen, car purchases, holiday, writing, catching up with people and most important of all just simply spending time with my darling wife. But lets not get into Shades of Gray, this blog is about the recruitment consultant.

Over the years I have been their client as a candidate and as a customer. I have hired many staff over the years and have been found several jobs through them. I have seen the good and the bad from both sides. So perhaps the simplest way is to categorise them.

The Mate

The Mate wants to be your friend.  Often they will pick up on my accent (Liverpool) and if they are poms (and many are) will instantly assume that I have just arrived in Australia and proceed to put down Australians and try to strike some accord with me because we happen to have been born in the same country. So after a minute of matey xenophobic chatter they tell you how strong your resume is and how they have several positions ideal for you. The trouble is they are often inexperienced and if they can get me as the candidate offside they will have no chance with a perspective employer. Nil out of ten.

The Child

Everyone has to start somewhere. Unfortunately, lack of training and inexperience shows. These consultants tend to dwell in the larger recruitment companies who use them for initial candidate interrogation. Those who are upfront about being simply an initial call, may in time progress, those who pretend to be more experienced than they are, will fall by the wayside. Three out of ten.

The Soldier

These are recruiters that have been in the game for some time. They process information they receive but lack panache. If they are thorough (and some even call you back and remember your name) then they work well for candidates and clients alike. Six out of ten.

The Fisherman

These are the best. They have experience, even understanding what the client wants and only put forward candidates that the client would employ. They are pleasant but not chatty, call you with feedback, understand what the client wants, ask the hard questions of the candidates. But they are few and far between. I have dealt with four of them over the years. I call them fishermen because they understand bait ie the resume, the fish ie the candidate and hooking the client. They score a ten out of ten and will tell you upfront if the position is beyond your experience.

The interesting fact is that they are all female and bloody good at their jobs. Ok open twitter and duck Gerry!

La vida es sueño

Don’t worry I am not going soft but possible a touch of reversion to my youth and memories of being beaten in the name of Catholicism. As school children we were forced with regular beatings, by so-called christian brothers, to read the classics and to my surprise I still re-read some of those ancient scribblers. The title of this post comes from Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600 to 1681) who was one of them, a scribbler not one of those catholic sadists.

The play’s most famous lines are:

“Qué es la vida?
Un frensí. 
Una ilusión,
una sombra,
una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño: que toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son.”
“What is life? 
An illusion,
one shadow,
a fiction,
and the greatest good is small: that all life is a dream, and dreams are dreams”

As mentioned, I often read these old classics and what prompted me to pick up this dog-eared book was a chance meeting with on old adversary. He was the client’s representative and I the builder’s project manager. Whenever I would call him and I would ask how he was doing, the reply was always the same – “living the dream, just living the dream Gerry”

I was in the city last week and we bumped into each other and of course we went through the normal pleasantries trying not to refer to the “project from hell” Of course I asked if he was still living the dream and where was he working. His response was that he had given up on construction, mining and resources and had opened a coffee shop. He was sick and tired of battling with clients and contractors and just wanted a quieter life. This surprised me as he used to be my arch-enemy and had a very good reputation around the town. He was actually a good client rep (not many of those around town). So I was surprised and could not understand why he would swap working on projects for a fate worst then death ie dealing with the great unwashed public. So after listening to him ramble on for half an hour and when I was about to go he let me in to how he accessed “the dream”.

He makes $1.00 net profit on each coffee sold. He averages 7,500 coffees per week and does not have to read crappy emails from the likes of me. I let him pay and decided I best start planning to execute my dream.


Compulsory Reading for PMs and CAs

Courtesy of Penguin Books

Liverpool, buildings, hard times and struggle. These are some of the ingredients that attract me to books, people and media articles.

I have often been accused of misanthropic attitudes so to recommend the antithesis ie philanthropy may shock some readers, but I really don’t want my epitaph to be “Here lies a misanthropic narcissist”.

You do not need to be a card carrying communist union official to get something from Robert Tressell’s 1914 political novel. If you are not one of the aforementioned it may help you understand where they are coming from.

This illustration was commissioned by Penguin for the cover of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen’s spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his men from their political quietism. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is known as a masterpiece of wit and political passion, one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written, but it was Owen’s forbearance rather than his radicalism which moved me. His capacity for suffering is almost masochistic. So I set out to depict him with an emaciated Christ-like aura as he endures the harassment and intimidation of his overseer (left) and employer (right)

I have read this book many times and I notice it is free on Guttenberg as per following link:

I have often suggested to Contract Administrators to read it (and some new age Project Managers). mainly so they can understand how things used to be and maybe having a high-handed attitude with subcontractors is not the way to get the best out of them.


And for those who want to get a feel of classical French literature try Moliere’s classic Le Misanthrope (in English):

Fools aka Pratts

Why do we put up with fools?

Well the first step is to define a fool. Yes we have all met them, worked with them and sometimes we have all been one. If you know you have acted like a fool that’s a start but a lot of people really don’t know when they are being a complete 22 carat unmitigated pratt.

So consider the workplace pratt. The most well known to all of us is Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the bumbling, self deluded manager in the UK tv show “The Office”. Who has never compared their boss to Ricky’s tv character, but the really serious issue is when you have this sort of Pratt who reports to you Well the first step is to define a fool. Yes we have all met them, worked with them and sometimes we have all been one. If you know you have acted like a fool that’s a start but a lot of people really don’t know when they are being a complete 22 carat unmitigated pratt.

So consider the workplace pratt. The most well known to all of us is Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the bumbling, self deluded manager in the UK tv show “The Office”. Who has never compared their boss to Ricky’s tv character, but the really serious issue is when you have this sort of Pratt who reports to you.

Well the first step is to define a fool. Yes we have all met them, worked with them and sometimes we have all been one. If you know you have acted like a fool that’s a start but a lot of people really don’t know when they are being a complete 22 carat unmitigated pratt.

So consider the workplace pratt. The most well known to all of us is Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the bumbling, self deluded manager in the UK tv show “The Office”. Who has never compared their boss to Ricky’s tv character, but the really serious issue is when you have this sort of Pratt who reports to you. Often they believe they are doing a great job, work under the misapprehension that their staff see them as born leaders and their boss thinks they are indispensable.

Bearing this in mind my thoughts went to an incident a few years back when I was Project Manager building a new municipal sewage treatment plant in Mumbai, India. We were working for a large civils company and the client was the equivalent of the local city council. I shall leave the whole Mumbai experience to a separate blog. The team consisted of me, two superintendents, six (yes six) QA inspectors, a project controller, numerous administrators and a dozen drivers, plus various assorted foremen. Everyone accept for me and one of the superintendents were local Indians. The superintendent in question was British and still though of India as the last refuge of the British Empire. I used to get the constant carping of “they do to do it like this in the UK” or “since we gave
them independence the place has gone to the dogs” Curious racist and xenophobic comments considering the basket case that the UK had become. But I digress.

This superintendent was technically very good, a hard worker, honest and loyal. But he was hopeless at managing people and even worse at managing upwards ie to me. In his eyes he was never wrong. The spec was wrong, the drawings were wrong, the consultants were d###heads and the client was off his trolley. All incorrect but not in his mind. This caused unbelievable tension and anyone who has worked in places like India know this attitude leads not to confrontation but to confusion and communication breakdown. I tried everything, the arm around the shoulder, the quiet word, even the threat of a one way ticket.

In the end he had to be convinced that he had to go. But the twist is, and the managing of the situation was, for him to convince himself he had to.

Well he’d did and went!

The IT Crowd

What a breath of fresh air to have an IT department that believes their role is to support operational staff. In other words they exist because we need them and not vice versa. The lifeblood of a company is communication and my new company don’t mouth it they do it. There have been occasions in the past when I have had to literally threaten IT people to be held by their ankles from a window to get them to do what they need to do, so big tick for Amos and his staff.

IT departments when they are a support service do get a hard time and sometimes it is justified. However, when they understand their role and actually sit down with the person with the issue as opposed to hiding behind the dreaded email “help desk”, they then understand what we as project managers need – reliable communication.

Of course as the Project Manager you are responsible for the profitability of the project and IT support gets charged to the job. If you have a problem with a subcontractor for instance you hold the purse strings, but you do not with your company’s internal departments. My new best friend Amos understands that and I take my hat off to him.

Perhaps other IT people could learn from Amos. but if you try to poach him you may have to learn to appreciate hospital food.

Project Controls

The first time I heard this term was a few years ago whilst working in the Middle East in Qatar. In Australia the role is usually described as Contract Administrator, but project controls much better describes the position.

The skills and experience that I have looked for in potential contract administrators can be broadly divided in to three:

  • contract management
  • financial management
  • schedule/programme management (on larger projects this becomes the role of project planner)

Unfortunately on some lesser size projects the contract administrator ends up being the dogsbody who has to manage the subcontractors, submit progress claims to the client, order the stationery and do the filing. So a lot of their time is spent carrying out tasks which they are grossly over paid for.

The concept of project controls ensures that the right people are doing the right job. Unfortunately if you have ever tried to hire an experienced planner who can use say Primavera you will know how difficult it is.

So far I have been talking about the construction industry, mining and infrastructure has even bigger problems. Many companies in this sector simply do not have the systems and expertise to run and deliver projects. There is a reluctance from the mining sector to bring in construction people, yet, here in Australia that is where the boom is taking place and that is where there is a desperate shortage of planners, contracts people and project managers.

Life in the Slow Lane

Mackay City Council Building
Image via Wikipedia

Well here we are in Mackay, Queensland, Australia. A very pleasant, easy going place with sky-rocketing rents and streets full of potholes. The place is buzzing with activity due to the resources boom, yet it does not have that wild west feel to it.

There are more flash V8 utes per capita than anywhere else in the country and whoever makes “flouro” shirts is making a fortune,

However, it is one of the freindliest places I have ever lived in and there is definitely a slower pace here, which is certainly not a criticism. It just needs two things, more people and more accomodation. Oh and the potholes fixed too.

Where has the passion gone?

James Joyce, 1 photographic print, b&w, cartes...
Mr Joyce

If you do not have any passion in what you do in your life, you really are wasting your time. I am passionate about my work, James Joyce, visual basic, writing, teaching those who want to learn, and above all else my darling wife, plus a few other things. But I suppose the main passion (excluding my wife) is work. I am not a workaholic but I still get a buzz from delivering projects.

My question is why are some people so dispassionate when it comes to work. We spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our families so if you are not passionate about what you do you should stop doing it and try something else. Sounds a bit harsh but why waste your life doing something you don’t enjoy.

If you are passionate about something you can inspire others to go with you on that journey, to be part of something not just a passenger. Unfortunately many people have no passion or if they do, they keep it well hidden.

So why do I place a picture of James Joyce in this blog. The reasons are twofold: I have a passion for his works; and he had a passion for his work. Some people struggle with his novels but my advice is to persevere. Ulysses must be the greatest novel of the twentieth century and as I was brought up as Irish catholic with all the associated guilt it relates to me. I am sure there are many of out there who could relate to it as well.

The New Black Gold

Dragline at the Curragh Coal Mine
Go Curragh

Construction in Australia was affected by the GFA but not as badly as the rest of the world. However, contractor’s order books did reduce and is unlikely to return to the levels of pre GFA for some years. In the meantime the resources sector is booming. Nowhere more so than in coal mining.  So yours truley has moved from construcyion into mining. Farewell Brisbane and hello Mackay.

Our biggest issue in providing construction, maintenance and engineering services to the coal mining companies is people. We cannot get enough of them. Engineers, planners, project managers, contract administrators/project controllers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and site operational workers. The rewards are exceptional and the future workload is guaranteed.

So if you want to move from tower cranes to draglines get in touch with me.

Time to Clean Up

In large construction projects such as skyscra...
Image via Wikipedia

The construction sector in South East Queensland is pretty flat at the moment for one simple reason: the industry lacks confidence in the immediate future.

Ok I could rant on about Gillard and Bligh (our PM and our state premier) but they will be gone in time hoisted on their own petard as we used to say. Construction companies are not hiring, ex-colleagues of mine are uncertain where the next project is coming from, so there is a shadow over the construction industry.

Everyday in the public notices section of the local rag there are subcontractors and suppliers in liquidation. Should we be depressed about the situation – definitely not. It is exactly what was required to fix an overheated industry, get rid of the rubbish and the wannabes.

I was discussing the current situation with an employment novelist (sorry consultant) today. He rang me asking did I know of anyone who may be interested in a position he was advertising. He went on to tell me about this “family orientated builder”, the “potential career potential”, then those bloody buzz words: team, synergy, blue-chip clients, ASX listed, openness, friendly environment. I had to stop him from gushing on about this company by telling him that I knew lots of people who may be sucked in to this Utopian employer. He detected my slight sarcasm and asked me what I would look for in a company. My response is summarized as follows:

  1. The company needs to be run by a hard-nosed, seen it all before, no-nonsense builder.
  2. The biggest site the financial controller has seen is not his girlfriend’s backside.
  3. Site foreman need to be able to use a level and have top-level skills such as being able to read, write and even set up holding down bolt cages accurately.
  4. Each project is up to date ie variations, RFIs, cost reports, subcontractor payments, registers, subcontracts et al
  5. The contact administrators can write their own scopes of works which get to the site before the subcontractor
  6. Working hours 06:30 until 18:00, but early finish of 13:00 on Saturdays.
  7. Subcontractors/suppliers paid on time
  8. Estimators who can actually estimate
  9. Safety policy that is in force not paid lip service to
  10. What gets discussed at the job interview is the truth no matter how unpalatable.
My friendly employment novelist was very quiet and finally asked me could I send him my response so he could use it as his own checklist.