“Skills shortage is holding back construction output in a very real way. ” — CEO Q+A: Eamon Hetherington, Glounthaune Property Development

CEO Q&A | Wed 31 Oct | Author – Business & Finance
Eamon Hetherington, Director, Glounthaune Property Development

In our next CEO Q&A, Eamon Hetherington, Director, Glounthaune Property Development speaks about the skills shortage in the construction industry, big ambitions and having a growth mindset. 

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

While the company priorities and goals may differ- they are complementary in nature. The main priority as a business owner is to ensure that every member of staff feels secure in their position within the company and feels invested in its future.

Our goal as a business is to be market leaders in the construction industry, without compromising health and safety.

We have big business ambitions and we are on a strong growth path, but we are always mindful that our success is and will be built on the strength of our team, so we want to create an inclusive working environment and promote positive mental health.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Trying to understand and manage the complexities of finance. One of the most things in any properly functioning business is cash flow and when you come from a trade background and are launched into a financial situation, you have to adapt quickly to survive. We have managed to learn this aspect of the business on the job as it were, but it’s something we are always cognisant of & we work hard to keep on top of it.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

By involving them completely in all of our projects – including the financial aspects. For us ‘Communication is key’.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Our industry has a number of hurdles it needs to overcome.

One of the biggest challenges in the construction industry is below cost tendering. For example, if a nail costs 50 cent, that is the true cost of that nail and you should not be selling that nail for 5 cent. That’s simple economics – but unfortunately, that’s now how everyone operates. So, providers over-promise during the tendering process and under-deliver if they win the business

There is also a huge shortage of labour in the construction industry and related skills and from a main contractor’s point of view, the lack of skilled labour is driving up costs. The Government have a responsibility to address these issues – We believe one area that should be tackled is the huge Irish construction labour force that are still overseas having left during the Recession – they need to be incentivised to come home.

We also need to promote the benefits of trades as a chosen career path. There is still this idea that everyone must have a college degree. We need to get people into the industry. And while we still need the quantity surveyor, the engineer, the architect, we also need the painters, plasterers, carpenters… there isn’t a steady flow of people with this training & skills.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The introduction of new modular systems which we as a company are embracing. When we say modular systems, we mean A-Rated energy efficient housing and energy efficient commercial buildings.

Social housing developments will/ should also dominate Ireland’s construction landscape in the coming years.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Affordability is a huge issue and it’s holding the market back & will serious repercussions over the next few years. First Times Buyers in particular are being priced out of the market & this problem will worsen if action is not taken to enable some price correction.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Absolutely. Skills shortage is holding back construction output in a very real way. Plasterers, carpenters, electricians, bricklayers and plumbers , tilers, painters and all tradespeople are in big demand and there just isn’t the numbers to fill the roles from our existing labour force.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

It was difficult, being a property developer in a country where the construction industry was on its knees. But due to the strength and dedication of our team we embraced the challenge, tackled head on & through hard work & determination we were able to push the company forward – and we haven’t stopped since!

Our focus during the recession was on retaining our staff and trying very hard to keep motivation up and morale positive.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Come what may, as a company we are in a strong position. We have a business strategy that will allow us to be ready to embrace the challenges posed by it.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success would be to leave half the legacy that my late father Eddy did in terms of the life lessons he taught his children and what he instilled in me personally. Any people management skills I believe I have been based on his teaching by example – he treated people with absolute respect at all times. Managing his team in his own building business, he always recognised people’s individual talents and embraced various differences people brought to the table. Now, these values are key to the culture of GPD.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

If you work in the construction industry, while you might excel in your trade, you also need to know about and understand the financial side of things.

Embracing change is also key to our industry – those who resist change will be, and have been, left behind.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

This past year has been one ongoing highlight as our business has grown continuously. This growth has been supported by the office and site staff across Cork City, County and also Limerick. This has been furthered been further strengthened by the recent appointment of our general manager, Aaron Willis.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We will continue with our commitment to operating to the highest standards (A-rating) in safety. Only 10% of construction companies in Ireland and the UK have achieved this standard.

We are poised to embrace the upcoming challenges in the Irish construction sector.

We are also ready to help and train the upcoming leaders of our industry.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We are focusing on 2019 and beyond. We will recruit and invest further in our employee’s education and training. This will place is in a strong position to tender for upcoming projects and explore new avenues.

Embracing change is also key to our industry – those who resist change will be, and have been, left behind.

Business & Finance, CEO Q&A

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