Roberts Co makes culture the key to a new era as construction conditions get tough


Roberts Co Chief executive Alison Mirams. Picture: NCA Newswire/ Gaye Gerard

A guaranteed five-day work week and a regularly enforced early knock-off may be just one link in the chain aiding growing construction firm Roberts Co through one of the industry’s most challenging periods.

Since the tier-one builder was launched in 2017 by rich lister Andrew Roberts, chief executive Alison Mirams has been at the forefront of driving a strong, people-led culture that places greater value on work-life balance and gender equality in the ­demanding industry.

And she believes it is now paying dividends for staff retention and hiring in a tight labour market.

“If you get your culture right and your people are happy, you get more production – it is pretty simple,” Ms Mirams said.

“People then tell their friends about how they’re working, how they’re enjoying it and it keeps the cycle going around.”

A newly released two-year research report commissioned by Roberts Co and conducted by the University of NSW titled “The Project 5: A weekend for every worker” found a five-day roster meant workers felt they had greater work-life balance, while there was no change on the economic viability in delivering projects.

It has led to the NSW government requesting all builders to tender for projects on a five-day and six-day working week schedule.

Greater flexibility will also help attract a greater number of women to an industry that is dominated by men, Ms Mirams says.

Roberts Co’s workforce is comprised of 40 per cent women, a goal the business has actively been chasing for the past five years. Ms Mirams says she doesn’t believe in gender quotas but is not afraid to seek out the right candidate, even if the hiring process becomes longer and harder.

“I have not given a woman a token job here to get a start,” Ms Mirams said. “Everything you do in life, you have a target. If you don’t set a target and you don’t report against it, you won’t drive it. So, we do have a target and it is driven by me.”

Construction has faced tough conditions in recent months due to a combination of price rises for materials, labour shortages and challenging weather conditions, which have caused several commercial and home builders to collapse or struggle to find their footing under the pressure.

Roberts Co recently struck a deal to take over Probuild’s Victorian business following the once prolific builder’s collapse in March.

The deal resulted in the business restarting work on all five projects, retaining the more than 150 Probuild head office and site employees and honouring subcontractor agreements.

“In Victoria, the two big players in town were Multiplex and Probuild and the opportunity to pick up one of the best contractors in the market for reduced cost was very, very attractive,” Ms Mirams said.

“When I looked at their projects, their mix of projects and their clients, they ticked every box and it was an ­incredible opportunity for us.”

In Sydney, the builder last week added the NSW government’s new paediatric department at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead to its growing list of five projects in the state.

Ms Mirams credits its small, hand-picked workbook to its success in riding out the Covid storm and recent summer wet, which closed rained-out worksites for weeks.

“When we set the business plan, we said we wanted to only have six to eight projects at any point in time and the logic for that was if there was a downturn in the market, you could, in my experience, decrease it to about five projects,” she said.

“It was great during Covid to be small and not have a massive headcount. That was a blessing for us.”