City Slickers

Cogent Scaffolding

Although Cogent is geared up to provide all manner of scaffolding services throughout Queensland or even cross-border, the company concentrates on the CBD of the state capital, with its rapidly changing skyline and multitude of public sector projects aimed at enhancing the city’s already high liveability index.

“Cogent has been operating for about 11 years,” says Danny. “My brother and I started in Sydney and did quite well for three years or so, building the business.” The company then operated from the Queensland capital as well for a while, one brother handling each office, but business started to slow down in Sydney following the Olympic Games while Brisbane remained strong; a decision was eventually reached to concentrate the business further north. “We could see the benefits of us all being together – making it easier to grow more quickly here. We have no regrets, although we hear that business has begun to pick up in New South Wales. But Brisbane has remained very steady for some time, especially with the infrastructure projects in which we specialise.”

A series of major ongoing projects have kept Cogent busy in the last year and half, during which the city’s activity has rather eased off – but Danny is confident this pause is almost over and will more or less coincide with the end of the big jobs the company currently has on its books. “I don’t see it going ballistic, but over the next year there should be enough work out there to keep us busy,” he shares. He expects activity in relation to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, scheduled for the Queensland capital, to also kick-start more construction work.

Safety being an overriding priority, Cogent pays top dollar for the very best qualified staff with the highest certifications to work in the city, enabling the company to win projects by competing on superior health and safety, which is something increasingly appreciated by clients. One ongoing challenge is finding good enough staff, although the bulk of Cogent’s team has been with the company a long time. “We look after them and in return there is a definite sense of loyalty,” says Danny. Working in town has benefits that sometimes offset the higher wages paid in remote areas in mining or resources; but Cogent has a series of staff benefits in place that reward service, and staff stay for that too, earning more and more benefits as they move up the ladder, so to speak. It remains a tight-knit team, too, which is valuable in terms of safety – everyone looking after each other. “My brother Steve and I were on the tools ourselves up to about three years ago, so we are close to a lot of the guys.”

Working in the city is “definitely a specialist area,” he explains. “I have been doing it for many years now and I still keep learning new things every day. There are always new and better ways to becoming a better scaffolder.” There are also many other aspects of working in a CBD that those engaged in projects in remote areas, or even on an industrial park, do not have to consider so frequently – tight site access, signage, public access, restrictions on working hours and so on, all of which require individual attention. It takes a great deal of thought and planning – and time – to prepare methodologies.

Part of setting up a project is talking through the individual challenges with the client to arrive at a mutually accepted solution; Cogent is very much seen to be an active partner in developing the plan as the company is the expert in the scaffolding arena. It may seem obvious, but it is still an important fact that the scaffolder is very much the ‘advance party’ on any site – if there are hold-ups here, everything else falls behind, so Cogent has to be on time, every time. “We have a lot of responsibility,” Danny shares.

Cogent typically has up to around ten projects on the go at any one time. Recently, about a quarter of the team’s resources were deployed on the Legacy Way tunnel project (please see sidebar for further details). So Danny and his team must work hard to ensure a constant stream of projects in order to keep the 70-strong workforce continually and gainfully employed while avoiding putting all the company’s eggs in one basket.

Scaffolding should be a trade, says Danny, and more training should be required than is currently called for in regulations. The basic ticket “is quite easy to get these days, unfortunately.” He thinks the skills are undervalued; in many other countries the sector demands considerably more in-depth training because of its inherent risk. Unless the training is there, the risk will not be minimised, Danny believes. Accordingly, Cogent carries out training programmes for its staff to equip them with skills to the levels it deems safe. At present there is a scheme with three staff at a time to go on courses; they come back and train their colleagues too. A full-time in-house safety advisor is on hand at all times for specialised aspects such as elevated work places.

To be sure, clients appreciate this attention to safety. One leading client is Hutchinson Builders, with which Cogent has worked on the twin-tower Arena in South Brisbane as well as the Circa Nundah Village project currently underway. Other projects include Rhapsody Surfers North with Brookfield Multiplex, Hamilton Harbour, Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, and the airport link and busway, which took two years of 24/7 work. Danny says he is particularly proud of his company’s part in the ongoing Legacy Way tunnel – and he hopes for more as Brisbane continues to boom.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 17, 2019, 4:58 AM AEDT