No Job Too Far

CivilTeam Engineering

CivilTeam Engineering has the ability to work in virtually any location, no matter how remote. The company’s footprint extends from its home office in Murwillumbah NSW to far flung locations throughout New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory. Wherever the location, the civil engineering contracting company focuses on the construction of civil development and infrastructure projects for both private and public sector clients.

Projects range from small jobs for isolated communities to extensive, multiyear projects for international airports. The team boasts multi-discipline experience in weir, bridge, air and road infrastructure, including earthworks, drainage, slope stabilisation, pavements, bridge replacement and water / sewerage reticulation.

CivilTeam has become increasingly focused on airport construction, upgrades and maintenance. Over the past two years, Ms Armstrong estimates that the company has completed around 38 remote aerodromes. Many of these jobs have been for the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to upgrade and maintain a number of small air strips supporting indigenous communities. “There might only be a couple of hundred people,” Ms Armstrong says of the nearby population. “These airports are in extremely remote areas.” In these isolated communities, a well maintained airstrip is essential for receiving crucial support in the forms of flying doctor services, mail delivery, and food drops.

The challenges of regional work require overcoming more than just isolation. For example, CivilTeam recently completed a series of projects on Cairns International Airport, the fifth busiest airport in Australia. Runway extensions and apron bay upgrades had to be executed while the facility was fully operating – without delaying a single aircraft. In another instance, the team had to overcome the logistical challenges of working on a remote site surrounded by water. Everything the crew needed to complete its project on Bickerton Island had to be brought in by barge. “The logistics of managing that whole process is quite different to a normal project,” Ms Armstrong explains.

Delivering high quality results in regional and remote sites locations isn’t easy, and CivilTeam has several key strategies that have helped make this challenging specialisation a resounding success. The company’s management structure has been helpful. “We tend to be very streamlined in our approach,” Ms Armstrong explains. “We have gone in with a very lean management structure and tended to keep the overhead down as much as we can.”

Encouraging local participation in remote and regional projects has also proven to be a key part of the company’s strategy. Getting input from the people on the ground ensures that projects are run in the most appropriate and efficient way for that specific climate and environment. Hiring local labour and subcontractors also increases locals’ sense of ownership and helps to ensure that the cultural practices of the indigenous population are understood and respected.

One reason that the team understands the importance of local input is because the majority of them come from remote areas themselves. “Most of the people that work here come from regional areas, so we have an understanding,” Ms Armstrong explains. “We are not about importing all of our labour. We do understand that we need to work with the communities and support the economic development of the local community.”

This attitude extends beyond the actual project itself. “We try and engage with local charities and donate money and build on the communities we are working in,” Ms Armstrong reports, and the company takes great care to hire crew members who share this vision. “It’s about picking the right people,” Ms Armstrong adds. “That’s been the way the company has developed and grown.”

This first-hand experience doesn’t just apply to the crew. The founders and managers of the company have also done extensive work in isolated areas and are well versed in overcoming the challenges that these worksites can bring. “[They have] an understanding and appreciation of the logistics of working in these remote places,” Ms Armstrong explains. “And that’s always factored into the tenders that we have put forward. That is the way that the company has been set up and run and grown.”

Indeed, rather than managing operations from the New South Wales office, many of the company’s executives still maintain an active presence on remote worksites. “It’s not just that the boss is telling you to do something – he’s actually out there doing it with you and working alongside with you,” Ms Armstrong points out. This hands-on management also provides mentorship for the younger staff and ensures that they learn the best strategies for working in remote locations.

Working at far flung locations has also made management cognisant of the pressures and burnout that isolated staff members can face. As a result, CivilTeam Engineering offers generous fly in fly out arrangements for crews working away from home. “We’ve tried to be family oriented in our leave arrangements,” Ms Armstrong reports. “We give staff enough time to have their R& R.” Allowing time away from remote worksites actually leads to greater productivity in the long run, Ms Armstrong explains. “It’s about keeping the morale up.”

Management also tries to give everyone a chance to work in more favourable locations when possible. “We do try to rotate the staff and give them that break,” Ms Armstrong explains. For instance, one crew that had been doing a lot of remote work was recently given the chance to work on a slope stabilisation project at Byron Bay Lighthouse Road. “So they have the opportunity to work in one of the most beautiful places in Australia,” before shipping out for their next assignment in Far North Queensland.

Having an innovative approach to challenging projects has also been a key to success. “We have tried to always think out of the square a little bit,” Ms Armstrong says. Every regional site is somewhat different, she explains, so each solution has to be specially tailored to fit. “There is no one size fits all with airport work.” For example, it was so hot at times working on Cairns International Airport, that to maintain supply of concrete within the specified temperature range ice was added and aggregates cooled prior to batching. Also to provide the best curing, placement of the concrete occurred on a nightshift with joint sawcutting on the dayshift.

A strong focus on customer satisfaction has also been crucial to CivilTeam’s success. Keeping clients happy is certainly important in any industry, but making a good impression can be particularly important in the airport construction sector. “Obviously, the airport industry is quite a small market in Australia. You’re only as good as your last job in that industry.”

Completing every job to the highest standard is key, and so is maintaining strong lines of communication with the customer. “It is very much about building client relationships,” Ms Armstrong explains. The company’s work at Cairns Airport is one good example. “There were eight stages of work that we continued to win over a two year period, and that was basically because of our proven communication and partnership approach that we undertook with the client,” Ms Armstrong reports.

CivilTeam’s ability to go where others won’t has kept the company ahead in a highly competitive market. “Definitely, there is a squeeze out there at the moment,” Ms Armstrong reports. Some of the pressure in the civil construction sector is coming from a lack of large scale projects for the bigger companies; as a result, smaller companies like CivilTeam face competition from industry giants that wouldn’t normally share the same market space.

However, the team’s focus on remote and regional work has carved out an extremely positive niche for the company, so business hasn’t been negatively affected. In fact, CivilTeam is growing. The company has recently purchased land for a new, purpose built facility. “[We are] always looking to continue growing the company even when the times have been difficult,” Ms Armstrong adds. “We are not ‘here today, gone tomorrow.’ We definitely want to be here for the long haul.”

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May 29, 2020, 4:13 PM AEST