McConnell Dowell works hard to make a difference in the communities where it works – and a recent partnership with Australian disability enterprise Vivid is helping make a lasting difference to a group of workers in the Echuca-Moama region of Victoria and New South Wales.
McConnell Dowell and Vivid worked together on Stage 3 of the Echuca-Moama Bridge Project, a new Murray River crossing connecting Victoria and New South Wales.
Completed in April 2022, the project has been one of the largest transport infrastructure projects in northern Victoria, jointly funded by the Australian, Victorian and New South Wales governments.
Contracted for the design and delivery of the new bridge by Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV), McConnell Dowell sought ways to collaborate with, and address the needs of, the local community.
McConnell Dowell Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Manager Jacqui Mott says she was driven by her company’s inclusive approach to social procurement, finding ways to contribute to the project that were fostered by mentorship and supported employment.
Mott says that during early discussions with community members, multiple locals pointed her towards Vivid, a regionally based not-for-profit Australian Disability Enterprise that empowers local people living with disability and which, as part of its range of disability support services, provides paid, meaningful employment for people with disability through its social enterprise, Vivid Work Crew.
“With all of our projects, our priority is to connect with community and gain an understanding of community priorities, drivers and values,” Mott says. “Through strong community engagement and listening to the Echuca-Moama community, the McConnell Dowell project team found a unique opportunity to provide employment and educational pathways to supported employees at Vivid Work Crew.”
“Through our partnership with Vivid, young people living with disabilities were employed to fulfil roles including site maintenance, office and vehicle cleaning, and environmental duties under the guidance of Vivid Work Crew Mentors and the Stage 3 project team.”
Vivid Business Development Manager Andrew Thomson says up to 20 Vivid Work Crew supported employees were engaged in the project, working in excess of 25,000 hours over the course of 24 months.
Undertaking general cleaning duties at the four worksite compounds, the supported crew worked a maximum of two shifts each day, on sites in Victoria and across the Murray River at the New South Wales section of Stage 3 works.
“COVID-19 then unfortunately struck, but McConnell Dowell supported us every step of the way to ensure our crews met all health and safety guidelines and could continue to work,” says Thomson, who worked closely with McConnell Dowell throughout the partnership.
“We needed four separate crews going to the different worksite compounds, which put a drain on our resources, but with the help of McConnell Dowell we were able to upskill some of our supported employees to meet the demands of the project.”
On top of delivering employment opportunities, McConnell Dowell, in collaboration with regional educational provider Bendigo TAFE, helped nine supported employees gain formal qualifications through Certificate II study at TAFE’s Echuca campus during the project, providing employees with onsite construction induction training and an opportunity for all members of the crew to obtain their industry-recognised White Cards.
Obtaining White Cards for all supported employees on the project was a challenging process in that it was something Vivid had never tried before, explains Thomson. “But with a local training provider and McConnell Dowell, we were able to get those formal qualifications for our Work Crew supported employees, all of whom are extremely proud of that achievement,” he says.
More broadly, he adds, all supported employees working on the Echuca-Moama Bridge Project not only felt a real sense of inclusion, but thoroughly enjoyed the work.
“They’re proud of the fact that they ‘built the bridge’, or even played a small part in its construction – particularly on a large-scale project that is expected to be there for decades, if not hundreds of years,” he says. “As an organisation, this taught us to be more ambitious with the projects that we engage our supported employees in.”
“Even though we’re only a small disability organisation in northern Victoria, with this experience we’ve now been part of a large-scale project, and we’re confident that we can work with large-scale companies in the future.”
Forming long-lasting relationships in the regions where it works is the cornerstone of McConnell Dowell’s social procurement strategy, and is what is at the heart of the company’s purpose – providing a better life. With an overall goal of delivering projects that connect, sustain and enhance communities, it’s the relationships formed from working with organisations like Vivid that underpins McConnell Dowell’s continued success.
Thomson says these values shone through in the way the McConnell Dowell team welcomed, encouraged and championed Vivid supported employees on site.
“When we reflect on the project, we’ve found the biggest takeaway from the opportunity to work with a company like McConnell Dowell was the relationships that were built,” he says. “The McConnell Dowell staff and management were unbelievable in understanding what our crew’s capabilities were and provided clear lines of communication from day one.”
“We still talk with McConnell Dowell today in regard to other projects that it is undertaking around Australia – I regularly get calls from its project managers to ask for advice on similar partnerships.
“It looks as though McConnell Dowell is replicating what we did on the Echuca-Moama Bridge Project in other projects around the country, which makes us feel proud that we’ve had a positive influence on the way it works with different communities.”
The Vivid and McConnell Dowell partnership highlights the brilliant outcomes that can come from placing a high importance on community engagement and social procurement in the construction industry. In 2018, the Victorian Government released the Social Procurement Framework in an effort to encourage the state’s construction industry to consider how it can support regional small and medium enterprises, such as Vivid.
The framework provides guidance to construction businesses and development owners to embed social and sustainable procurement into existing processes. The goal is to have a standard of procurement contracts that make a real difference to communities by providing opportunities like support, employment and training to Aboriginal businesses, social enterprises, people with disability, women and the long-term unemployed.
It’s through these kinds of frameworks and initiatives that all Australians will thrive, says Thomson. “Vivid’s partnership with McConnell Dowell is a perfect example of how social procurement can change lives,” he says. “I hope this relationship can be a model for other organisations to be able to either replicate or take inspiration from.”
“We want to thank McConnell Dowell for having faith in us, and also the Australian and Victorian governments for including social procurement in their tender requirements – it helps organisations like ours to promote our abilities and our people with disabilities.”
McConnell Dowell’s Jacqui Mott is equally impressed with the outcomes of the partnership. After the completion of the project, the parents of Vivid’s participating supported employees advised her that they could easily gauge personal gains brought about by being part of the workforce – as these young adults they care for were now improving social and communication skills, and developing practical competencies and self-confidence.
“What’s more, the response from the McConnell Dowell project team was fantastic,” says Mott. “Our project team across the board was very supportive, many friendships were formed, we learned more about diversity within a community, and as a result we fostered a very inclusive workplace.”
“McConnell Dowell is proud of the far-reaching benefits the partnership has delivered to both our team and Echuca-Moama.
“We continue to build on our strong social procurement approach by enhancing the value we deliver to the communities we work in.”
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