Each month Upskilled reaches out to people who have succeeded in a variety of industries to gain insight into what they do and what it takes to excel in their field - industry experts. This month we speak with a Contract Administrator in the Building and Construction Industry, Kellie Fraser.
With a background in insurance and administration, Kellie Fraser admits she ‘fell’ into the construction industry, a change of direction that perfectly suited her skillset. Her natural abilities in organisation, time management and adaptability could only take her so far however, so in 2010 she returned to study and now works as a Contract Administrator in Perth.
Upskilled: What is your official job title, and what does your role involve?
I am officially titled as a Contract Administrator (CA). However my role varies depending on the value and complexity of the project. On smaller projects, say under $5-6m, I will undertake the dual role of CA and Project Manager (PM). On larger or complex project we would have more staff allocated to it and I would then solely fall into the CA role.
Typically, the role covers the following responsibilities:
- Oversee all aspects of the project as client liaison and project manager
- Prepare contracts for suppliers and subcontractors, highlighting relevant issues specific to the job
- Review contractual obligations and contract terms
- Monitor budget for all engaged projects
- Negotiate on purchase price to subcontractors and suppliers, to achieve and exceed budget
- Tender out all aspects of procurement
- Maintain procurement spreadsheet and quote folders
- Resolve issues as they arise with client, team and contractors
- Communicate efficiently and effectively with all parties involved in project
- Establish and update records of all correspondence related to works activity
- Review and approve invoices, variations and reconciliation documentation
What can you tell us about the company you work for and the kind of projects you work on?
I work for a medium-sized Commercial Builder who specialises in (but is not limited to) interior fitouts, as we undertake all aspects of construction. The business has been running for over 15 years and has a solid presence in the Commercial sector. We have a core strength in working with heritage listed buildings, creating new facilities for present operational needs, without losing the history and beauty of the building. We work for government, airports, mining, banks, insurance and private companies etc.
Over the last two years I have completed five projects at the Perth Domestic Airport, everything from installation of auto bag drops, new data centres, upgrades to amenities, skydomes and retail upgrades. Also, I have completed a large scale base build project for Australia Post at the heritage listed GPO building. Within my construction experience I have exposure to all sectors of construction, from undertaking industrial projects at the Perth Mint, to luxury apartments in Applecross, mix use developments, to $12m food processing plants, buildings at universities and high schools and simple residential developments.
What was your first job in the industry and what did you study to get into the role you’re in now?
I kind of fell into construction. My original background was insurance and office administration. While living in the UK in 2004 I applied for a role as a Team Leader for a maintenance helpdesk at a Housing Association. I knew nothing about maintenance or building, but what I did know is customer service and administration. They provided me with an opportunity to learn the aspects I had no knowledge in.
Once I got a taste for building, I knew it was something I loved and came naturally to my skillsets of being organised, excellent time management, good at mathematics and being adaptable to the ever changing project environments. From this point onwards I worked as a project administrator in Melbourne, until my practical experience could take me no further.
I returned to Perth in 2010 to work and study full-time. I completed my Bachelors degree in Applied Science - Construction Management and Economics at Curtin University in 2013. Due to my practical experience I was able to reduce my four year degree to three years with exemptions. Since 2010 I have worked as both a Contract Administrator and Project Manager in West Australia’s Commercial Construction.
Could you run us through an average day on the job – if there is such a thing?
No such thing. A CA’s roles varies through the month and the stage of the project. Within a month you will allow one week for end of month financials, one week for forecasting and progress claim/variation assessments and everything else in between will be taken up with the ongoing management of the project, such a RFI’s, variations, document control, notices, meetings, purchase orders, etc.
The beginning and the end of a project tend to be the most time consuming for a CA. At the beginning we need to organise all permits and approvals, organise all procurement, issue the construction program, set up the project systems (contact lists, site establishment), formalise document control and issue all OHS documentation. At the end, it’s final accounts, occupancy approvals, demobilising site and closing out the project reporting. In the middle is where the project is ongoing daily administration and management. Having said that, the project’s demands can change within an hour depending on client variations, subcontractor performance, drawing changes, latent conditions or environmental factors. You will never be bored in construction, because you will never have time to be.
What are some of the key skills you need to succeed in this sort of work?
- Financial understanding
- Strong math skills
- Time Management
- Organisation and ability to multi-task
- Computer literate
- Problem solver
- Strong communication skills and sense of professionalism
What originally drew you to the construction industry?
I have always loved architecture and problem solving, but after been exposed to construction I realised I loved the fast paced environment, the diverse and complex nature of it and most importantly, I really enjoy starting from scratch and watching a build become something to be proud of, that makes my clients, team and company happy.
Was it difficult getting that first opportunity or did you just happen to meet the right people at the right time?
It just happened. The rest is history.
What’s the best advice you’d give someone aspiring to your line of work?
Work hard and stay focused. Make sure you balance your practical and educational experience equally, you cannot do one without the other as it a very complex industry. Never stop learning, as construction will never stop evolving.
It’s not the easiest job or sector to work in, but the rewards are there if you stick at it. Always take the time to listen, be fair and reasonable to clients and subcontractors. Construction is a very small world and due to the nature of the industry people change organisations and roles regularly.
You never know who you will be working with on the next project so it is imperative you always maintain good relationships - if you do this, your career will be a good one.
I’d also suggest starting yoga early in your career, it will help in the long run!
What are the best and the most challenging things about being in the construction industry?
Best - enjoying what you do. You might not enjoy it everyday, but the moments of gratification are there. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy starting from scratch and watching a build become something to be proud of. You get to work on some cool and creative projects, which you can see all over the city and point out to your family and friends. We are building our city!
The most challenging part is getting the work/life balance right, as there is always work to be done. Also, it is a challenge to get the project cost-time-quality perfect for all stakeholders and your organisation. The pressures is always high to perform and excel. On every project at least one of the three core elements with be hard to achieve, if not all of them.
What is it like being female in a male dominated industry?
Not without its challenges. I would be lying if I said sexism is not present in our industry, but I try very hard not to focus on that. Does that mean I feel I need to work harder to prove myself? Probably, but regardless of being a female, I would want to push myself to be the best I can be.
The clients and sub-contractors that know me, know I am a good CA, full stop. Those that have never worked with me before might have pre-conceived ideas of a female in construction, but I don’t worry about that. With time they will see I am here because I am more than capable of undertaking the role and my work will speak for itself.
I am also lucky that my employer has a good percentage of females that work in our company compared to a lot of other builders. They offer support and would never accept any negative behaviour towards us. They see the many benefits of having women in their organisation and construction in general.
In terms of career progression, what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Ideally I aspire to be a Contract Manager or Operational Manager in the future, however first steps are to become a Senior CA/PM and then work towards those roles via education and experience.
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