A conversation with Charlotte Whitelaw
Charlotte Whitelaw has construction in her blood, but her career path wasn't exactly a straight line. From initial studies in psychology to her current role managing complex projects for RPS cli...
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During COVID times, the world talked a lot about global supply chain problems. Whether you were trying to build a house or buy common household goods, everything seemed to be in short supply.
When it comes to construction, supply chain disruption can mean big problems. And while global markets are largely back in business, the building industry is still navigating tricky waters when it comes to sourcing the products we need to get projects completed.
Ask any project manager what supply chain problems their contractors are coming to them with, and chances are they’re going to say, “steel!”. From rebar to structural beams and door frames, steel products are consistently hard to source.
While product procurement is usually the contractor’s issue to solve – the consistency with which we are talking about steel supply (or lack thereof!) reveals a pattern of risk to on-time delivery.
Here in Western Australia, sourcing people with the right skills is another issue that we are facing regularly. As a small, and relatively isolated market, WA has always relied on skilled labour transiting from the eastern states and overseas.
The pandemic made labour migration difficult in every market. But we’re continuing to feel the reverberations in the west as many tradies have not yet come back, or have transitioned into other industries that compete for similar skills – like the resources sector.
Even if you have all the products you need to build something, if there’s no one to do the work – you’re still in trouble.
Our building industry is facing challenges that are global in nature, but the impacts are keenly felt at the local level. So, what’s the answer?
In my experience, it’s about getting creative. I’m currently managing construction projects on Department of Defence bases – a program that involves the phased delivery of multiple facilities.
Many of these buildings are multi-storey and require lifts − a product that was identified early as a procurement pain-point. Lift packages are manufactured overseas and there are significant delays sourcing them due to fabrication and logistics constraints.
Under normal circumstances, lifts would be sourced for each building as it is developed, but as the program is phased we seized the opportunity to adapt our usual procurement method and source lifts for all buildings in the program upfront.
This obviously involves upfront costs and the lifts for future development phases have to be stored somewhere. But in the case of this program and the Defence bases we are working on (where security is great and there is ample space available) this solution has prevented what we knew would almost inevitably be development delays.
And while this resulted in a larger upfront cost outlay, the budget remained intact and a potential delay was successfully mitigated.
Sourcing ahead of program and buying lifts in bulk is just one example. And this approach won’t be right for every project or client.
But it demonstrates the value of understanding potential supply or labour pain-points as early as possible, and adapting business as usual procedure to address issues before they sink your schedule or blow your budget.
When it comes to construction, labour pressures and supply chain issues aren’t going away any time soon. But a good project manager with the ability to think creatively and problem-solve can certainly help you navigate the challenge.