Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent

Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent
Hannah Yap, environmental advisor for the New Bridgewater Bridge Project at McConnell Dowell. (Image: GroundUp Imaging)

In the midst of the ongoing global shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector, McConnell Dowell is successfully cultivating a pipeline of new and eager talent through its Graduate Program.

Recognised for its instrumental role in propelling recent graduates into thriving careers in construction, McConnell Dowell’s Graduate Program provides invaluable hands-on learning opportunities for the next generation of industry professionals.

Allowing participants to learn the ropes and gain practical insights into the execution of major construction projects, the two-year program not only addresses the industry’s talent gaps but also ensures a steady influx of capable individuals ready to contribute to the growth of Australia’s built environment.

Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent
Michael Caswell, general manager of human resources for McConnell Dowell’s Australian business unit. (Image: McConnell Dowell)

Michael Caswell, general manager of human resources (HR) for McConnell Dowell’s Australian business unit, emphasises the significance of forward-thinking programs and initiatives like these in forging a brighter future for the sector. Drawing on his extensive experience in HR, he highlights the importance of the Graduate Program for emerging professionals and for McConnell Dowell and the industry at large.

“McConnell Dowell’s Graduate Program offers a unique opportunity for new university graduates or individuals who have recently completed equivalent qualifications in relevant fields as they embark on their professional journey,” says Caswell. “This multifaceted program allows participants to delve into areas such as engineering, operations, finance, commercial or health, safety, environment and quality (HSEQ).”

“It’s an exceptional opportunity for new graduates eager to experience the construction industry first-hand, allowing them to gain valuable experience and knowledge and make informed decisions about their future professional paths.

“We aim to support the beginning of their careers by providing exposure to the various facets of our business through onsite experiences, mentorship, continuous learning and development opportunities, and rotations spanning diverse projects within our portfolio.”

McConnell Dowell’s Graduate Program isn’t just about theoretical learning – it’s a chance for participants to contribute to a Tier 1 construction company and gain genuine insights into the industry. The dynamic program undergoes regular reviews to ensure it not only provides a robust introduction for young professionals but also offers an authentic glimpse into the realities of working on construction projects.

For example, engineering graduates work alongside design engineering teams, delivery teams and project management, gaining practical experience in site operations and project delivery. This immersive experience exposes them to the complexities of analysing project requirements, contributing to temporary works designs, collaborating with consultancies, suppliers and subcontractors, and crafting construction solutions. This exposure extends to critical aspects of McConnell Dowell’s pre-contract and business development processes, including activities like tendering and estimating. If a graduate expresses a specific interest in a particular area, McConnell Dowell is also committed to facilitating their involvement in that domain.

For some entering the McConnell Dowell team through this program, it represents not only their first full-time job but also their initial foray into the responsibilities inherent in project work. Caswell explains that working in project delivery demands an intense pace often underestimated by those who haven’t directly experienced it. Through the Graduate Program, McConnell Dowell provides a valuable support system, guiding individuals through their initial exposure to the fast-paced world of construction and assisting them in adapting to its demands. This program is not just about filling a talent gap; it’s about nurturing the future leaders of the construction sector.

“We are continually striving to enhance our learning offerings year after year,” says Caswell. “Our commitment extends to delivering a curated schedule that not only enriches knowledge but also fosters connections among graduates, allowing them to bond with peers who share similar experience levels.”

“Additionally, we offer graduates the opportunity to rotate through a variety of projects, covering a diverse range of sectors and disciplines such as marine, road, commercial and rail construction.”

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Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent
A clear career path provides graduates with a vision of their future beyond the program. (Image: Damien Ford Photography)

From an organisational standpoint, McConnell Dowell seizes the opportunity to bring new, enthusiastic individuals into its ranks, acquainting them with the company’s operations and steering them on a path aligned with its core values and purpose. This approach ensures a seamless integration of fresh talent, fostering a collaborative and purpose-driven team environment.

“Further, expediting the entry of young talent not only into our organisation but also into the industry as a whole is crucial,” says Caswell. ”This accelerates their access to opportunities for personal and professional development, equipping them with a holistic understanding of their growth potential within the construction sector.”

“It’s not solely about attracting and recruiting new talent; it’s equally crucial to retain them, ensuring a steadfast pipeline of construction professionals both now and in the future.

“To achieve this, we establish a clear pathway for graduates, allowing them to envision their future beyond the program.”

Upon completing the two-year program, graduates transition into full-time positions as members of McConnell Dowell’s standard workforce, reflecting the company’s commitment to providing a long-term career path for program participants.

The company has achieved significant success in attracting, recruiting and retaining new talent through its Graduate Program, exemplified by the notable journey of Hannah Yap. Starting as a graduate environmental and sustainability advisor in 2020, she successfully completed the program in 2022.

Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent
Graduate programs are an integral part of building industry capability and capacity. (Image: GroundUp Imaging)

Throughout her tenure in the program, Yap contributed to the environmental and sustainability advisory team on the Inland Rail Tottenham to Albury Tranche 1 project. Additionally, she undertook rotations to other projects, where she worked alongside the onsite environmental advisory team for the Cranbourne Line Upgrade and the Aviation Road, Laverton level crossing removal project.

Upon successfully completing the program, McConnell Dowell extended an offer to Yap for a position as an environmental advisor on the New Bridgewater Bridge Project in Tasmania. Determined to make the most of the opportunity, she has been thriving in this role for over 12 months, earning praise from Caswell as a valuable addition to the team.

Underscoring her achievements, Yap clinched a victory at the National Association of Women in Construction’s (NAWIC) TAS Awards for Excellence 2023, recognised for her significant contribution to the New Bridgewater Bridge Project. Reflecting on the award, Yap said: “It was an incredible night celebrating so many powerful women at the NAWIC TAS Awards for Excellence 2023; I am tremendously humbled to have won in the ‘Contribution to a Project’ category.”

“I want to take this moment to pay my appreciation forward to all the women in the construction industry that have paved the way forward, to all the women that have showed up boots on the ground every single day, and to all the women that have redefined what a career in construction can be.

“As I look ahead, I find myself excited to advocate for working cultures that empower every woman to rewrite their own success and leadership.”

Construction Graduate Program opens doors for new talent
Mario Russo, managing director of McConnell Dowell’s Australian business unit. (Image: McConnell Dowell)

Another exemplar of success within the program is Mario Russo, the newly appointed managing director of McConnell Dowell’s Australian business unit, succeeding Jim Frith. Russo joined McConnell Dowell in 2005 after graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of South Australia. Since joining McConnell Dowell, Russo has demonstrated a consistent progression in his leadership capabilities within project and new business management. With a dedicated focus on cultivating strong customer relationships, ensuring the timely and budget-conscious delivery of high-quality projects and aligning with the company’s Vision 2025 and Horizon 2030 strategic plans, Russo has been pivotal in solidifying McConnell Dowell’s standing as a Tier 1 contractor in South Australia. Additionally, Russo and his team have effectively steered McConnell Dowell’s re-entry into the Western Australian market while fostering collaboration between the company’s infrastructure and vertical building businesses in South Australia.

These two graduates stand as shining examples of the success achievable through McConnell Dowell’s Graduate Program, fully embracing the opportunities and building prosperous and fulfilling careers within the company. “While not every graduate is expected to step in and become the next managing director, we aim to attract talented individuals who can follow a trajectory towards more senior roles and exert a lasting influence on the company’s direction,” says Caswell.

Beyond being a valuable opportunity for emerging construction professionals, the program strategically positions McConnell Dowell for success in a competitive market. By identifying key areas for cultivating future leaders within the company, and considering the existing skill shortage, McConnell Dowell actively seeks applicants capable of contributing tangible value to these targeted areas. In essence, the company looks for candidates who have successfully completed tertiary education in a field aligned with its resource planning needs.

“The program was launched five years ago, and in the intervening period, our business has experienced substantial growth, presenting us with evolving challenges each year,” says Caswell. “Consequently, we have continuously sought to align our program with the specific skills required to navigate these challenges.”

The program is open to new applicants every year, with 16 graduates starting this year from the last intake. McConnell Dowell will be opening the program to new recruits again this year, looking for a new intake to start with the company in 2025.

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