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Kindness not competition, the road to a building industry overhaul

May 18, 2021

I met with a client recently and the topic of other builders came up. My client looked at me with curiosity as I explained to him what each of our "competition" was really good at and why they are a great fit for some of his upcoming projects. Perplexed he asked "why would you tell me that?" my response was simply I have no problems losing a bid to a great organisation as long as the race is fair. It only pains me when the winning bid is a builder who underpays their apprentices and thinks an SMP is some kind of ale.

Perth is a small place to be, the Perth building industry is even smaller, but that's not the reason I am choosing to be kind to our competition. Our industry employs over one million workers nationally* and generates over $360 billion in revenue, producing around 9% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product*. As large as the industry is we have no "major players" with the largest being CIMIC Group Limited holding just a 2.5% market share. What this means is that the sphere of influence that each organisation operates in is actually relatively small.

As organizations, we have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces, fair remuneration, and quality workmanship. But do these responsibilities create an impact on the industry overall and can it be achieved at a larger scale? Let's think about some of our industry's issues, from Health, Safety, Environment, and Quality through to Human Resources and Reconciliation. These are real issues that demand we stop "ticking boxes" in the procurement process and start creating real impact, but how do we do this if our sphere of influence in the industry is so small? We collaborate.

Most businesses in this industry are either sole traders or very small, employing less than 20 people so the notion that sharing what you do and how you do it will somehow limit your ability to claim a monopoly in the market is flawed. Our industry does not have a monopoly to be claimed. What our industry does have is a mental health crisis, executive burnout, a culture that sacrifices health and safety for the sake of time and money, topped off with the "race to the bottom". Profit should be a consequence of good business practices, it should never be the goal.

Establishing a brand new workflow that you discover can contribute to a zero harm initiative in your business or developing an exceptional employee assistance program that prevents burnout in your team should not be "Intellectual Property" it should be "Industry Property", that is how we drive real industry change. We need to educate our sole traders, clients and subcontractors and share ideas with our competitors, let others learn with us. This doesn't mean sharing the intimate details of your organisation, as Brene Brown says "vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability" It just means have conversations with all kinds of people in the industry about the issues we face collectively and see if you can add value.

If every great organisation took the challenge of educating and helping other organisations around them, over time it will force the industry as a whole to level up. As an industry, we can stand for safe workplaces, supportive cultures, and high standards of work. As an industry, we can debunk the Australian tall poppy syndrome and celebrate those organisations who truly embody these values whether they are your competitors or not. As an industry, we can be better, and the time for change is now.


  • Australian Industry and Skills Committee
  • AU Industry (ANZSIC) Report E Construction in Australia
  • Brene Brown, 2018, Dare to Lead