Master in the making

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Alex Wilson worked his way up from builder’s labourer to construction manager on multimillion- dollar projects. Now he’s been recognised with the 2019 Master Builders Association of Victoria Young Builder of the Year award. By Shane Conroy

Alex Wilson has wanted to be a builder for as long as he can remember. The 2019 Master Builders Association of Victoria Young Builder of the Year and construction manager at Harris HMC traces his interest in building right back to the LEGO sets of his childhood. But his first real taste of the construction industry came on a neighbour’s building site. “When I

was a kid, there was a house being built next door. I must have shown an interest because the builder took me under his wing,” he says. “He let me come on site and push a broom around, and he taught me a few things.” That was the beginning of a lifelong passion. A handful of years later, Wilson was back on a building site as part of a high school work experience program at Brighton Grammar.

The plumber was so impressed with the motivated teenager that he offered him paid work. “I worked for him on a casual basis while I finished my school studies,” says Wilson. “I was doing general labouring tasks, and it gave me a good idea of how a residential construction site works—from the bottom rung at least.”

Climbing the ladder

Then came a Diploma of Building, Diploma of Building Surveying and a Bachelor of Applied Science Construction Management at RMIT University. A former rowing coach introduced the recently graduated Wilson to Harris HMC, and the respected construction company quickly snapped him up as contract administrator. That was in 2008, and by 2011 the promising young construction professional had been promoted to contracts manager. “Harris HMC showed a lot of trust in me from day one,” says Wilson. “They let me dive straight into the deep end. I was actually doing project management work during that period. The great thing about Harris HMC is that people don’t get too hung up on titles.

If you put in the work and are doing things well, you are given the opportunity to grow.” By 2017, Wilson had been promoted to construction manager and today oversees a core team of around 25 employees. “As construction manager, I lead a core team of operations staff and collaborate with all project stakeholders—particularly the clients— to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to make the project as successful as possible,” he says. “The most challenging part of the job is people management—pairing the right personalities together in a team to achieve the best outcomes. I’ve got to get everyone on the right page from the start and to agree on a plan on how to best deliver a project.”

“The most challenging part of the job is people management—pairing the right personalities together in a team.”Alex Wilson, Young Builder of the Year

 Facing the challenge

Wilson has worked on several major construction projects for Harris HMC. Among the most complex was the construction of the $8 million Saint Michael the Archangel Mausoleum inside Melbourne General Cemetery. “We were working on the only piece of vacant land there, and there were graves and headstones about 300mm from where we were piling,” he says. “We needed to have stringent plans in place and be very careful and respectful with the environment we were working in. But the result was sensational.

There’s a trafficable glass floor on level one and we ended up with a really high-end product.”Also of special note is the $24 million Song He Xin Yuan, which was a major extension of the Buddhist burial grounds at Springvale Botanical Cemetery. It was a 46-week build and involved the transformation of an existing dumping ground. “We needed to do a lot of contamination remediation and took 110,000 cubic metres of dirt off the site,” Wilson explains. “It was a tough job to get to the completion date and we made the call to put additional resources down there, but it has turned out to be an iconic project for us and all stakeholders.”

A team-first approach

Wilson has also been involved in a wide range of multi-million-dollar commercial, residential and industrial projects. It’s this diversity that contributed to his recent recognition as 2019 Master Builders Association of Victoria Young Builder of  the Year. But the award has certainly not gone to his head. “I’m a fairly modest guy, and while the recognition is nice, I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” he says. “It was a little overwhelming to start with, but once it sunk in,

I realised it was a good way to show my team that the way they operate can give them the opportunity to win this award in the future.” For Wilson, keeping his team motivated and developing is always a priority. His approach goes back to his time as a cox on his rowing crew at school. “I think being the voice that motivated the guys in the crew helped me understand how team morale and camaraderie is built. And that’s very similar to what I do now.