Laying the Foundations – Gary Roberston, Operations Manager

This interview is designed to uncover the stories behind the people at Worksmart and their careers until this point. How you got to where you are today, essentially.

Gary, thanks for sitting down to answer a few questions today! Hope we haven’t caught you on a busy day?

Most days are quite busy to be honest… I don’t mind sparing a few minutes for a quick chat though.

How was your school life? Were you a good/bad student? Did you do as well as you could have in terms of grades?

School life for me was very sport orientated, I was very active in school, especially with football and squash. I wasn’t a particularly great student but academically I passed every exam that I studied for.

It’s difficult to say if I did as well as I could have done; probably not, as my main focus at school was sport. Every day I was either training or competing so even though it probably shouldn’t have been, sport was my number one priority back then.

Did construction appeal to you when you were young?

Sport was always my number one choice for a career, but after receiving a bad knee injury, any hopes I had of pursuing it as a career were dashed. When I was looking for a job it was very hard to get an apprenticeship in my area, so I knocked on every construction builder’s door until finally it paid off and I got an apprenticeship in joinery.

What were your next steps after high school?

I went straight into construction, through my apprenticeship. I was lucky that way. So many kids leave school not knowing what they want to do and with no structure. That’s why I’m so pleased when I see the apprentices coming through Worksmart. They’re given such a great opportunity and education and at Worksmart we’re helping so many people find a career; great careers too!

At that point could you have imagined yourself in the position you are now?

I was very fortunate that I came off the tools at aged 26 which is very early. I was involved in major refits, so I was working very close with the top management and that is when I decided that I wanted to progress. I think having that competitive edge in me from my sporting days helped me in that sense. I was always looking to improve and better myself.

What came before Worksmart professionally for you?

I was with Morris and Spottiswood working on Universities, retailers. I have worked on most sectors of the building trade, so I feel I have gained experience on all aspects of construction.

When did you first hear about Worksmart and what were your initial thoughts?

I had known about Worksmart for several years working in the fitout sector. What impressed me most was the professionalism and the high standard of work. You’d see a Worksmart job and everything would have been done to a better standard. Everything would be cleaner, more polished and that bit more impressive. For me, as someone that’s always trying to move up and progress, I saw Worksmart as the company I should be aspiring towards working for.

If you could go back and give 16-year-old you any advice, what would it be?

Don’t smash your knee! That would be my best advice! But also, work hard and always try to be better than you were yesterday. If you do that, and stay humble, you’ll get on OK in life.

Everything you need to know about Worksmart Fire Door Inspection

– Hi Mark, you’re heading up the new Worksmart Fire Door Inspection division, could you tell me a bit about it and how it came to be?

Worksmart Contracts have been installing fire doors and screens as integral elements of their glazed partitioning and multi trade fit-outs for many years and the new Fire Door Inspection service has grown out of the drive to be experts in everything we do. Worksmart Fire Door Inspection does exactly what it says on the tin – we inspect fire doors, using an approved 90 point checklist, to evaluate whether they are compliant with the regulations and fit for purpose. We create a report for our customer that identifies any failings and they can then take the necessary remedial action.

– How long in the making has Worksmart Fire Door Inspection been?

We have been working behind the scenes for about 8 months, researching, undertaking training and accreditation, speaking to trade associations and developing our website and service offer before launching earlier this month.

– What makes Worksmart FDI different to its competitors?

We are the only company in Scotland accredited by the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) – the first scheme of its kind in Europe – and are supported by installation expertise, in the form of Worksmart Contracts, as well as our fire door manufacturing partners. So we can offer a complete package – installation, inspection, maintenance and repair.

– What’s your role within Worksmart FDI?

I am the manager of the Fire Door Inspection Service, which, so far, has entailed the research, training and accreditation previously mentioned as well as helping with the development of our website and fire door inspection app. Going forward, my role will involve operational planning, customer service and day to day management.

– How do you see Worksmart FDI developing over the next 5 years?

Given the current focus on fire safety, there is already potential for demand to outstrip our capacity and we have already started training additional fire door inspectors so that we are in a good position to meet that demand. By developing strong relationships with our customers and other members of the fire safety community we are aiming to be the first choice for fire door inspections in Scotland!

View the new FDIS website here – Worksmart Fire Door Inspection

A Day in the Life of: Barry Wilson, Estimating Director

A Day in The Life of: Worksmart’s Estimating Director

Worksmart’s Estimating Director Barry Wilson took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk us through an average day in his world.

Hi Barry, thanks for sitting down with me today. Before we delve into your day, could you give me a brief description of your position?

My job title is Estimating Director which entails the overseeing and managing of the pre-contract commercial and estimating function within Worksmart.

What time do you wake up in the morning?

Normally about 6.30am.

What kind of breakfast do you have to prepare you for your day?

I don’t eat breakfast. I only drink water in the mornings and quite a lot more throughout the day!

When do you arrive at the office?

It generally varies but will usually be any time between 7.30am and 8am.

What do you prioritise when you arrive?

First of all, I check on any emails from the night before then delve into whatever the priority is for that day, so long as any late-night e-mails received don’t need urgent attention.

What’s Next?

Whatever the next priority is for that day and that week and beyond. We tend to have a minimum of at least 3 to 4 deadlines to meet in any one week, so it may involve getting the team involved in take offs or getting packages out for pricing to sub-contractors or concluding bids and tenders for submission.

With estimating you’re always working to a deadline so you’re constantly prioritising which tender is due next or what package you need to get out next to make sure you get that tender in on time.

What part of the day do you least look forward to?

Probably first thing in the morning! I’m not much of a morning person even though I get up relatively early.

What part of the day do you most look forward to?

I most look forward to my dinner!

Seriously though, I enjoy the variety of people you come across in the day-to-day goings on in my role. Most are from the professional community, but others can be end-user clients that ordinarily don’t get involved with projects, so when that instance occurs you need to give them a guiding hand through it. That can entail practical advice as well as design input. The variety makes the role interesting as you’re not pigeon-holed with one type of client every day.

When will you leave the office?

It can vary but generally between 5.30pm and 6pm. Family life dictates those times with Dad’s taxi needed for football, child minder pick-ups and the likes. Although if there’s an important tender due in then that can be much later. The midnight oil gets burned now and again.

Does the work continue at home?

No, I try not to. I made a conscious decision recently to take email off of my phone and I feel a lot better for it. This is especially noticeable on holiday, where one minute you can be relaxing by the pool and all of a sudden, an email comes through and it plays on your mind till you get back to the office. Modern technology has taken over our lives I think to the detriment of our own wellbeing at times!

Attacking the Skills Gap – Worksmart’s First Female Apprentice Joiner

Hi, I’m Briony, Worksmart’s first female joinery apprentice!

I’m here to tell you all about why I’ve chosen joinery as a career and go into the pros and cons of working within a male dominated environment as a female joinery apprentice. I’ve not always wanted to be a joiner; over the years – like a lot of people – I’ve changed my mind countless times from civil engineering to geology to forestry.

Finally, after a good friend of mine completed carpentry/joinery course at college, I decide to give it go; turns out I love it! I’m not a hundred percent sure why I enjoy it so much but I do know that I just love building, I always have. So what better way to combine my career with what I thrive on doing?

I began my apprenticeship with Worksmart in June this year after completing 2 years at college, first an NPA in carpentry and joinery then the next level up: a City and Guilds qualification. This led me to Worksmart, as they were carrying out work at Ayrshire College in Ayr while I was doing my course. Good news for me. Next thing I know I’ve got the job and my 2 years of hard work has paid off and I’m officially Worksmart’s first ever female joinery apprentice!

Now, I know there are some people out there who question the path I’ve taken: a job in a predominately male field that has lots of heavy lifting, especially when I’m short, skinny and female. Understandable concerns. There are a few downsides and you can feel a little left out sometimes, but who doesn’t when they start a new job?

Ultimately however, I’ve found that you have to do what you want in life. And although some people may have negative opinions towards my choices, I’ve only ever had support from family, friends etc.

If you get stuck in and work hard, any feelings of doubt will disappear and in a few weeks you’re just one of the guys. Personally, I’ve never had any trouble within such an environment as I’ve never stood for anything but equality. I sometimes feel like I have to try harder than everyone else and that I’m out to prove something. However, if you want to be there and put your all into your work there won’t be a problem.

Now to the pros, there are plenty I could list but I’ll just stick to a few. Firstly, you get to try out lots of fun things like using machinery which I would never otherwise be able to use. You also get to learn directly from people who have years of experience within the industry. I’ve found that it’s mostly just like working anywhere else. If you need help, ask and you’ll get it. If you don’t understand something, ask and it will be explained to you.

I’d like to credit all the guys I’ve worked with so far as they’ve been brilliant and treated me no differently than they would treat a male apprentice. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity or a more accepting company to begin my career as a joiner.

Coffee & a Chat with Gary Baxter – Project Manager

Relatively new to the Worksmart family, Project Manager Gary Baxter describes how impressed he has been with the company since joining just under a year ago.

Tell me a bit about your working background and how you came to join Worksmart?

I began my career as a joiner in the early 1990s, specialising in private bespoke properties. From there, I ended up in the Refurb and Fit-Out industry. I worked for one company for 12 years, progressing from joiner to supervisor in eight or nine months and then on to site manager the following year. After that I worked as a site manager for various companies.

I’ve only been with Worksmart since December 2017. Initially, I spoke to Stevie [Neilson], he’s a genuine guy and everything he’s said he’ll do for me he’s come through on; I’ve been received very well here, and I hope I’m doing a good job in return.

Describe your role and the responsibilities you have?

I’ve been working as a project manager for the last couple of years, the roles and responsibilities of the job are primarily the same as that of a site manager, but on larger scale projects. There’s a lot more detail involved as well as more interaction between design teams and clients.

It’s a job I love. You tend to get a lot more involved and into each project when you’re the project manager.

Did you think your career would progress this way back in the early days when you were a joiner?

Back in the early days I had no idea how things would progress! You go from job to job, with the jobs getting bigger each time, and you can see yourself progressing and begin to get an idea of where you would like to be. Worksmart have been good enough to support me on this path.

How would you like to see your career progress in the next few years?

In the next few years I’d probably like to get into contracts management, which would be looking after several projects at the one time. But for the moment I’m very happy as a project manager.

What’s your best piece of advice for a young person looking to get into your profession?

Stick in and do things properly. My old contracts manager used to say: “if you’re in a house fitting a door you should take 30 minutes; if you’re on a commercial job, you should take an hour.” The commercial game is a lot harder and you’re judged on your last job, so you’d better make sure you’ve done things properly.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Worksmart?

There’s a real community feel around the company. The management are there to boost you and help you at all times. It’s a very positive environment, there’s no negativity and there’s a great work ethic within the company.

When you’re not in the office, what do you like getting up to?

I’ve got two kids, so they keep me very busy! Other than that, I enjoy a game of golf now and again.

Coffee & a Chat with Donna Herman – HR & Office Manager

Donna Herman – HR & Office Manager

With nearly 25 years of refurbishment & fit-out industry experience under her belt, Worksmart’s HR and Office Manager Donna Herman tells us about her role, the responsibilities she has and how she came to be where she is today.

Tell me a bit about your working background and how you joined Worksmart?

I have always worked in an office doing an Administration/Office Manager role since leaving school nearly 30 years ago. From when I was a young 23-year-old and before joining Worksmart I had worked for a couple of companies which were of the same background. I met Steve, who owns Worksmart in one of these companies nearly 20 years ago. He was a Quantity Surveyor in the firm, so I’d known Steve a long time before he set up Worksmart in 2002. Steve was looking for an Office Manager and I had a chat with Lisa, came to join Worksmart and I have been here since! It’ll be four years in February.

Describe your role and the responsibilities you have?

It’s a bit of everything to be honest. Because of my background I have knowledge in a lot of different areas. Mainly, I do HR, Accreditations, help with PQQ’s, Clearances and obviously managing the office as well.

How do you find managing the office?

I enjoy it, it’s what I’ve always done. I’ve done the job for so long; for all the differences in the companies I’ve worked for, it’s always been pretty much the same throughout.

You’ve witnessed the growth of the company first hand, how much has your role changed in that time?

There’s a lot more people now so I’ve progressively got a lot more involved in the HR side of things. The company has gone from 10 or 11 people when I started to around 46 now. So this takes up more of my time now, just down to the number of people.

What’s your best piece of advice for a young person looking to get into your profession?

Don’t give up. I’ve got here through experience much more than education initially. I’ve always put my all into every job I’ve had, and I believe that’s been a major factor in my success.

Education is massive, but you don’t necessarily require to have a degree to make your way in the world; I’ve only got Highers. What I’ve always said is that you can work your way up the ladder. As long as you have the correct work ethic and attitude, are hardworking and you put your wholehearted effort into something, you can get to where you want to be.

There’s been a big thing recently about exam results; both of my kids have done really well and have been or are going to university which is great, but if they hadn’t achieved the results they’d been looking for, I wouldn’t ever push them to be anything other than honest and hardworking with a good attitude – I believe that can get you far in life.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Worksmart?

Steve, Lisa and all of the Directors want us to work as part of a team, striving to get to where we want to be. They’re very good at recognising people who work hard. If you do come into Worksmart and you work hard and put all your effort into it, they will recognise that.
When you’re working in an environment that recognises hard work, it makes you want to push further.

When you’re not in the office, what do you like getting up to?

I look after my elderly parents, I’m their main carer, but at the weekends I tend to try and give myself time off. My social calendar is always really busy to be honest; there’s always something going on! I love spending time with family and friends.

A Coffee and a Chat with… Paul Cravens, Commercial Director

With the better part of two decades in the industry, Paul Cravens is an experienced Quantity Surveyor and Worksmart’s Commercial Director. We sat down with him to get his insight into his role and hear his advice for someone looking to make a career in Quantity Surveying.

Tell me a bit about your working background and how you joined Worksmart?

After graduating with an honours degree in Quantity Surveying I went to work for a number of years with property developers, firstly in the Isle of Man and then latterly in Glasgow. In 2008, a colleague of mine and I set up our own cost consultancy, focusing on helping subcontractors with difficult clients or problematic projects. In addition, we worked alongside project clients and acted as Quantity Surveyor on their behalf.

Prior to my employment with Worksmart, Steve and I had known each other for a number of years and after we’d got chatting one day over a few drinks, landed on the idea that Worksmart would be a good fit for both parties! That was it really. At that point, the company had four office based staff including me and our turnover was around £1.8M. Six years on and the business has grown and developed significantly since my early days. Including our site staff we have now over forty direct employees and will turnover just less than £10M this year.

Describe your role and the responsibilities you have?

As Commercial Director, it’s my responsibility to manage and direct the Commercial Team. We’re responsible for all commercial aspects of the business, so that goes from placing sub-contract orders, negotiating contract terms, agreeing prices, negotiating final accounts with clients, to dealing with any contractual issues that arise during the course of any projects that we’re working on. In addition, we report regularly on the financial performance of the projects that are ongoing.

As well as that Director role, I have my own projects that I commercially manage. At the minute, this includes a couple of projects with our client Ayrshire College, as well as various refurbishment works taking place at Kilmarnock Football Club’s Rugby Park Stadium.

What’s your best piece of advice for a young person looking to get into this sector?

I would say that the best route is to get a Quantity Surveying degree under your belt. Although degrees aren’t everything, they show a level of commitment that someone has to have to get that degree and see it through to the end.

After that, I’d suggest finding somewhere that fits with them and what they want to do; the type of company and organisation they want to work for is important. There’s lots of options for Quantity Surveyors out there: going to work for sub-contractors, going to work for private Quantity Surveying firms or going to work for a contractor like Worksmart. Pick one of these options, find the company in that sector that can provide you with the best training and experience and try to do it almost like an apprenticeship.

If you do the degree course full time – as I did – you will have only a small amount of practical experience and once you graduate you need to work on accumulating that experience over a number of years, on various projects. So it is essential that you find the company that will give you the broadest range of experience and the opportunity to climb the ladder once you have had the opportunity to prove yourself.

When you get out of the office, what do you like getting up to?

I like spending time with friends and family, socialising, participating in and watching sports. About two months ago I started going to the gym again and I’m trying my best to walk that line and make sure I don’t fall off the wagon! I’ve been successful so far!

The Life of an Interior Contractor

A significant proportion of the projects we win are competitively tendered, we are regularly competing against up to 5 contractors and sometimes more. It is a competitive world we live in and sometime the race to be the cheapest can be soul destroying.

We spend money and time in making sure our Management Systems, IT, insurance, Health and Safety and accreditations are all up to date, relevant and practised. It’s great when surveyors and clients look beyond the numbers and the quality of your company is part of the selection process, in fact we actively encourage a Price/Quality split.

We are competitive, we know it, but we never want to be cheap as anyone who has experienced a contractor ‘buying’ work will testify, more often than not the tendered price and the final account become two different figures, somewhere along the line there is usually a disagreement.

We have been around for over 16 years and are committed to being here for the long term. By investing in our people, our clients and property professionals alike we can continue to develop the business and hopefully become the contractor of choice more often than not.

What is astonishing is that even though we have been the most competitive offer on a couple of occasions the client or his surveyor have appointed another contractor – sometime we get a plausible reason and sometime we don’t. Once thing is for sure there is no point in getting upset, we dust ourselves down, get back on the horse and hope that we win the next one!

So what the point in this blog (apart from being quite therapeutic) – well it is just a chance for us to share our experience as a contractor. We try to be the best at what we do and believe in honesty, a word that often doesn’t align with the word contractor very easily, unfortunately as often is the case, the minority of rogue contractors give the majority a bad name.

Negotiating projects with clients and surveyors is becoming more fashionable, although we do think it should happen more often (of course we would!). We say this, not because that route to procurement is more profitable for us, but because it gives us certainty of future work, which allows us to plan better and ultimately deliver a better service.

Do clients really care about their contractor as much as their design team or their furniture supplier, we hope so and we hope that by continuing to work the way we do that contracting will become a more valued appointment and perhaps even a more popular industry (we might have taken that too far!).

In our world it can be extremely difficult to forecast the future both financially and operationally but we have significant experience, in fact I think it keeps us motivated and energised, we might even enjoy the buzz in a strange kind of way.

A Coffee and a Chat with… Brian Henderson, Contracts Manager

The team here at Worksmart is always expanding, and we have taken on several members of staff in recent months. Our most recent addition is Brian Henderson, who recently sat down with Kieran to talk about his role in the company.

KJ: Hi Brian, how have you enjoyed your time at Worksmart so far?

BH: I have thoroughly enjoyed my first couple of months here, having already been Contract Manager on several fit-out and refurbishment projects. This has taken me the length of breadth of the country, from Livingston to Manchester.

KJ: What does your position at Worksmart involve?

BH: This requires me to lead projects we are carrying out, which can involve a variety of services. I will be charged with ensuring that each project has enough materials and labour to be carried out effectively. For example, I am currently the Contract Manager of two office refurbishments in Glasgow, which both happen to be next door to each other.

KJ: What does a typical day look like for you?

BH: Due to the immense variety of this position, there is rarely a typical day. I could be in the office preparing job files and ordering materials, or out on various sites throughout the UK. Due to the variety of fit-out and refurbishment projects I manage, it is important to have strong relationships with suppliers. In addition to this, I aim to ensure that I have a good relationships with my clients.

KJ: You were originally a joiner, who then retrained to become a project manager. What benefits do you think this has brought?

BH: Due to having on-site experience, I feel I therefore have a greater understanding of what makes an excellent fit-out or refurbishment. Having worked with several of the materials being used on these projects, I can therefore help to ensure that all works are completed to the highest standards. I also feels it allows me to better manage my team, due to having experience of how long each part of a fit-out or refurbishment can take. A knowledge and understanding of other trades, as well as strong working relationship, has allowed me to work effectively with various sub-contractors.

KJ: Outside of Worksmart, what do you like to do with your free-time?

BH: I enjoy going walking as often as I possibly can, which helps to clear my mind after a long day at work. Also, I love going out for meals with my family at the weekend, as well as visiting the cinema whenever I can. I particularly enjoy spending time with my kids.

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Our Christmas Message – Getting Fit for the future

As we steam full throttle towards Christmas with tenders still arriving on our desk, jobs still going to site and some projects finishing (and the obligatory social event), we have taken some time to gather our thoughts and reflect on the past year at Worksmart.

The business has experienced significant and structured growth over the last 12 months and as we grow we recognise the need to invest in our people, our systems and the infrastructure to support us for the future. These elements combined will have a significant impact on making us the strong sustainable business we strive to be. The investment we have made in these areas has been prevalent this year and will continue in to next year.

We have also made two major appointments – the experience of Derek Mair, who recently joined the business as a Non-Exec will be invaluable as we take the business to the next level and we are really excited Derek has agreed to work with us.

In addition to Derek, after two successful years with Worksmart the recent appointment of Gary McGurk to the board as a Director is a major statement of intent from the business. Gary has been instrumental in some of the company’s recent successes and will continue to work together with the board to develop the plan for consolidated and sustainable growth.

Our industry is extremely busy at the moment which is fantastic, but who knows what effect Brexit will have on the macro economy and ultimately our industry. We also still have the threat of ‘Independence’ that will no doubt rear its head again sometime soon. We can’t control or influence either to any great degree.

The one thing we can control is how we manage Worksmart and the way we conduct our business. With the current skill shortages we experience within the industry how and who we employ is another critical factor to our success in the future.

Worksmart continue to develop our culture and people with our Apprentice Scheme, Graduate Programme, School leavers, and much more. Embracing our local youth working with Schools, Colleges and Universities and giving back and working with our Communities.

What does the future hold, who knows! The one thing we do know is Worksmart are getting ready for it and are in good shape to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

Sincere thanks to all our clients, contacts and friends out there who have supported us during the last year, we look forward to working with you over the next year and beyond.

Merry Christmas from all the team here at Worksmart and a Happy New Year when it arrives.
Sláinte
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