For many young people, a stereotyped vision of dusty construction sites still dominates their view of our industry. Although construction requires creativity and ingenuity, this isn’t always considered as the next generation map out their future hopes and dreams.
“It’s a false understanding,” says Austin Fraser-Hills, a construction manager about to complete Laing O’Rourke’s Graduate Development Programme (GDP).
“Our industry is nothing without creativity and innovation. At Laing O’Rourke, we’re taught to challenge the norm, experiment, innovate and strive to do everyday things differently.”
Austin is sharing this enthusiasm for dispelling industry stereotypes where it matters most – in Australia’s classrooms.
Along with other members and alumni of Laing O’Rourke’s talent development programmes, he is part of a group leading Inspiring STEM+ – a direct response to Managing Director Cathal O’Rourke’s challenge to inspire construction and engineering’s next generation. Importantly, the focus is very much on disrupting the traditional and attracting diversity.
Directly linked to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum, the programme specifically reaches out to female students, offering immersive learning opportunities and direct access to the rich spectrum of opportunities in construction and engineering. Now being rolled out across the Australia business, it began with a pilot in March this year when over 50 female students from Sydney’s Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College joined Laing O’Rourke, along with our client and construction partners, on a three year programme linked to the construction of 100 Mount Street, North Sydney’s newest, world-class commercial high-rise tower. It links curriculum themed modules – e.g. to Laing O’Rourke’s Digital Way of Working – with practical experience, professional development workshops and regular access to events.
“We want to invoke passion and excitement and encourage involvement within STEM-related subjects - to introduce girls to an exciting industry while decisions and paths are still being formulated, as opposed to waiting until subjects and degrees are elected,” says Victor Tay, a site engineer and GDP graduate who is also spearheading the project.
“It’s crucial that we offer these opportunities to girls, as diversity is so crucial to any organisation. In Australia, women make up only one tenth of the construction industry - I’m proud that Laing O’Rourke is doing a lot to attract more women into the industry, but there is still a lot more we can do.”
The drive to nurture others and improve the industry is actively encouraged within Laing O’Rourke’s talent programmes, says Austin. “Laing O’Rourke understands that mentoring across levels is important to success. Inspiring STEM+ has been created by young people, for young people; while more experienced leaders guide us in its roll-out, we are teaching them how to inspire millennials – and in turn, the young students participating in the programme are teaching us how best to provoke their thought and encourage them to stand up, speak out and challenge themselves.”
The environment created through the talent development programmes is crucial to developing future leaders and enabling people’s personal qualities to shine through.
Angelique Notaras, Inspiring STEM+ Project Sponsor, says: “Soft skills are so important. You can be great with your textbooks, but how do you communicate and how do you have what it takes to be a leader? We want to challenge and change perceptions.”
“There are so many opportunities for young talent to express and challenge ourselves at Laing O’Rourke,” adds Austin. “At our last Graduate Development Day, we were directly told that senior leadership would back us up if we demonstrate bravery and challenge the norm. What an inspiring message to hear!”
“At school, I originally leant towards architecture - it wasn’t until I approached key figures in the industry that I found my calling was Construction Project Management.
“I remember attending a seminar a few years ago and seeing an incredible 4D sequence for the Leadenhall Building in the UK. I was in awe of the incredibly complex, highly successful construction methodology detailed in the amazing animation, how it all came together and the extreme complexities of the project, from the ‘start straight’ concept, to the prefabricated modules. I found Laing O’Rourke’s willingness to innovative was hugely inspiring, and from this moment I knew I wanted to be a part of Laing O’Rourke.
“I’m passionate about understanding the mechanics of how things work. It is this enthusiasm I want to share with the next generation, whether as part of Inspiring STEM+, on the graduate programme or with young up-and-coming Interns on our projects.”
“For me, the excitement of construction is in creating projects and seeing them through to completion. At Laing O’Rourke, I can do this while having the opportunity to travel – during the two year graduate programme, I moved from Perth to Darwin, then relocated to Sydney. I love sharing my enthusiasm for the job through programmes like Inspiring STEM+.”
Austin Fraser-Hills joined Laing O'Rourke's GDP in 2016 and is due to complete the programme at the end of this year. Victor Tay graduated from the programme at the end of last year and is now working as a Services Engineer on 100 Mount Street.