By harnessing its Employee Promise, McConnell Dowell is attracting new people to the construction industry and providing them and its current employees with meaningful, challenging and impactful careers.
McConnell Dowell has long been a strongly values-driven organisation, with its purpose – providing a better life – and authenticity on delivering on that purpose underscoring its success.
Within this purpose sit five company values: safety and care, working together, honesty and integrity, performance excellence, and customer focus. The words themselves don’t differentiate McConnell Dowell from other companies – many businesses have similar worded values and purposes. It’s the authentic nature of the company’s purpose and values that makes them unique.
Steve Collett, executive general manager people and group strategy at McConnell Dowell, started with the company in 2016 as the executive general manager of human resources, before also taking on McConnell Dowell’s group strategy portfolio in 2019. With over 25 years’ experience in human resources, industrial relations and management consulting, Collett has seen first-hand the difference company values, and their commitment to those values, can make on employees, both new and existing.
“We genuinely believe in providing a better life, whether that’s through building infrastructure or supporting the communities in which we work,” says Collett. “The Echuca-Moama Bridge Project, a new Murray River crossing connecting Victoria and New South Wales which we finished last year, is but one example.”
The local Echuca and Moama communities had been calling for a second Murray River crossing for more than 50 years. Delivered by McConnell Dowell, the new crossing has removed around 10,000 vehicles from local roads each day, which has in turn reduced commuting times and provided safer and easier travels between Echuca and Moama for locals and visitors alike.
The Level Crossing Removal Projects McConnell Dowell is currently delivering in Melbourne will similarly benefit local communities, improving safety by removing the danger of train and vehicle or user collisions, and reducing congestion and delays by allowing vehicles and users to pass through without having to wait for trains.
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“The projects we deliver genuinely provide a better life for local and surrounding communities,” says Collett. “We also aim to provide a better life for our employees located around the globe – including Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region – by providing good jobs, good pay, good skills and good opportunities.”
“Our purpose and values really do underpin what we do and how we do it, in all aspects.”
Furthering its commitment to providing a better life, McConnell Dowell recently held a series of workshops with a wide range of people within the organisation and asked them questions around what makes them stay at the business, what makes work enjoyable and what made them join the business.
Built upon their many varied answers, McConnell Dowell developed an Employee Promise with four key pillars: join us, be you; build balance; grow together; and make a difference.
Join us, be you
McConnell Dowell prides itself on promoting a culture low on ego and high on support. “We’re a big, multinational organisation with the capability to deliver complex engineering and infrastructure works, but we’re small enough to be agile and close-knit,” says Collett. “During the hiring process we regularly hear things like, “I would never have had an opportunity to even speak to the chief executive officer in my previous role”.”
“Whereas our chief executive officer and members of our executive team are regularly moving around and having conversations with all levels of the McConnell Dowell team.
“It’s about embracing difference and diversity and providing an inclusive space where people feel welcomed – we want you to join us and be you.”
McConnell Dowell, as with any other construction and engineering business, works in a particularly difficult sector of the economy. Construction is commercially high-risk, and a lot can go wrong. The company manages the physical risk but understands that if a tender goes wrong or unexpected challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic come into play, having a unified, supported workforce where everyone feels valued for their individual skills, experiences and passions can be the difference between success or failure. By encouraging all its employees to be themselves and make an impact, McConnell Dowell is setting them up for success in even the most challenging of situations.
This commitment to its employees includes actively celebrating diversity, inclusion and individuality. For instance, in the past eight years, McConnell Dowell has grown female representation in its business by 63 per cent and continues to revise its approach to improving diversity company-wide.
The construction industry is full on and demands a lot of people. Many construction projects have seven days a week rotating rosters, but McConnell Dowell is striving to move away from this traditional working model. Although difficult, the company is leading the charge to change those expectations of long hours, demanding rosters and little downtime, on an industry level.
“We’re conscious that working in construction can create an unsustainable lifestyle if you let it, so we pride ourselves on making sure our people get every opportunity to improve their work-life balance,” says Collett. “That’s not to say we’ve achieved this, we’ve still got more work to do to build true balance across the board, but we’re very conscious of it and are trying to shift the needle as best we can.”
One of the benefits of COVID-19 was that it created opportunities for people to work differently, such as remotely or in a different city. Since the height of the pandemic, like many organisations, McConnell Dowell has adopted a hybrid, working from home model. Some of its staff prefer to be in the office full- time, while others who have longer commutes work a couple of days from home. The company has, for example, people supporting its projects in Australia from Manilla and people supporting a project in Tonga from Christchurch in New Zealand.
“We also grow together, as a business and as people within the business, and we’re stronger because of it,” says Collett. “Again, there’s always room for improvement, but we’re focused on making sure our people get those opportunities for growth, and to develop their skills and experience.”
For those looking to expand further on their horizons, McConnell Dowell provides its existing employees opportunities to travel and experience working in its different locations around the world. With operations in 15 countries, the company is increasingly focused on internal transfers of its people looking to work in a new country or area of the business. Some people have worked in McConnell Dowell’s operations in The Philippines for a long time and have made the decision to relocate to work in the company’s Australian arm. Others have moved from its operations in Indonesia to work on a project in Tonga. There are endless opportunities for people to work in areas where they have skills, capability and passion, wherever that may be.
“We always endeavour to create open dialogue through development discussions for our employees to voice their career goals and share the various opportunities that are available in the organisation,” says Collett. “We also reach out to people who we think might benefit from particular opportunities.”
“We have an open-door culture in McConnell Dowell where we encourage anyone to come to us and talk about their careers and what they want to do.”
Make a difference
The final pillar – make a difference – directly relates to McConnell Dowell’s purpose of providing a better life. All four pillars under the Employee Promise link back to that purpose in one way or another.
“What we do as a construction and engineering business is we build the structures and buildings of tomorrow,” says Collett. “We build infrastructure, which provides productivity benefits for the communities that we work in, but we extend on that.”
“We do things like promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, attend schools and talk about the opportunities available in the industry, and work with community groups to provide different employment and learning opportunities.
“It all makes a difference for both our employees and the wider community.”
McConnell Dowell’s recent partnership with Australian disability enterprise Vivid on Stage 3 of the Echuca-Moama Bridge Project gave the company the opportunity to provide young people living with disabilities with employment, which included site maintenance, office and vehicle cleaning and environmental duties.
“The partnership enabled Vivid-supported employees to graduate in Certificate II in Commercial Cleaning, an education pathway enabled through TAFE,” says Collett. “It’s partnerships like these that cement our commitment to our purpose – it made such a profound difference to the supported employees, their parents, the community and the entire McConnell Dowell project team.”
McConnell Dowell’s partnership with Vivid is just one of the many environmental and social initiatives the company spearheads across its global operations.
Creating better together
McConnell Dowell currently has a campaign running on LinkedIn, which shares real-life stories from people in the organisation speaking to the four pillars of its Employee Promise.
One story the company is sharing through this campaign is that of an employee who came to Australia as a refugee with little education. Through cadetship schemes and traineeships, she’s now forged a successful and rewarding career with McConnell Dowell.
Another campaign story includes one of McConnell Dowell’s male engineering managers who took primary carers parental leave. He speaks to this leave in the campaign and what a difference it made for him and his family.
“For us, it’s not just words on a page,” says Collett. “The stories we are sharing through this campaign are lived experiences of people within our organisation, and that’s powerful.”
“We’re not just putting up examples of what we want to do, we’re sharing examples of what we have been doing.
“We communicate our Employee Promise during the recruitment process because we want people to know that they’re stepping into a company that cares.”
Embracing its authentically driven purpose, values and Employee Promise, McConnell Dowell is investing in its people, its customers and the communities it works in to provide a better life for all.