This week’s exclusive interview is with Richard Lines who is not only the project director for Canary Wharf Contractors, but also construction manager at Southbank Place, a landmark London mixed-use project close to the Thames by the London Eye, which is being developed by Braeburn Estates, a joint venture between Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar.
Hi Richard, can you take us through your current role and what duties it involves?
I’m the project director for Canary Wharf Contractors at the Southbank Place development, which means I take the lead on the project overall. This covers working with the design team, procurement and coordination of construction activities. There are about 100 Canary Wharf Contractors employees on site, and around 1,200 trade contractors.
What was your career path to reach this position?
I went to university and I studied Civil Engineering at Southampton University. My course was theoretical, and upon graduating, I went into construction management almost immediately, working at Tarmac Group. During this time, I was involved in some key London projects, including the Royal Opera House. I left after nine years there and moved to work for Canary Wharf Contractors. From there I’ve built numerous towers. I’ve been involved in projects such as the Credit Suisse and Clifford Chance buildings, and most notably 20 Fenchurch Street, or the Walkie Talkie building.
Are their particularly inspirational people or projects that have been important to you?
Looking back, there are a few key milestones. It was fantastic to work on the Royal Opera House development as it’s become such a London landmark, and I also enjoyed working on the Clifford Chance Building in Canary Wharf, where I was able to build very strong relationships with the trade contractors involved on the project. I would definitely say the Walkie Talkie building was a highlight too, as the project was filled with technical challenges, but everyone on the team pulled together to achieve a fantastic building through hard work and commitment.
What is it that keeps you in the new homes industry?
It’s wanting to improve our environment. To me, construction is about changing the skyline. Waterloo is already a great area but it needs rejuvenating, and that is what we are aspiring to achieve with Southbank Place.
Are the reports of a ‘skills crisis’ in the industry worrying to you?
Absolutely, I think that this is being felt all over the industry, and it’s important we empower young people with the right tools to explore the construction industry, especially in light of the uncertain future after Brexit. Currently, we are reliant on labour from other EU countries, who have a great work ethic and are a great asset to the industry. However, we really need to develop our own workforce.
At Southbank Place, we are addressing the issue through investing in programmes such as Budding Builders and Budding Brunels, where young people can get first-hand experience on site, to test out whether they like the construction industry and what it offers. We also have a strong record with young people already, as last year we had four apprentices, 13 graduates, five trainees and four engineering and quantity surveying cadets. There are a lot of benefits to be reaped from the industry for candidates who are prepared to work hard.
Have you been recruiting a variety of roles and what sort of qualities and qualifications do you look out for?
We are certainly recruiting at all levels, and locally we have made our vacancies well-known through a number of Lambeth job brokerages. The main things I am looking out for are enthusiasm and commitment to seeing a job through. The right perception, to know how to problem-solve, and strong people skills for communicating are also high on the list.
Can you see the male-dominated nature of housebuilding staff changing much in the next few years, and what do you think is needed to make it happen?
Industry-wide, there is additional support needed to get more women into construction and break down barriers. We need to make sure that women are comfortable working in the construction environment as equally valued members of the team.
As part of the Construction Youth Trust’s Budding Brunels scheme, groups of schoolchildren visit the site to gain a greater understanding of the construction industry, and we’ve recently worked with a number of all-girls schools in this scheme. There’s been a high level of interest and good feedback from young women who have taken part.
University fees are very high now, which makes me think that perhaps there should be more financial support for young people looking to undertake the training required, for the important roles we have throughout the industry.
What career ambitions remain as yet unachieved for you?
I have been fortunate to be involved in many exciting projects in my career and I would like to pass my knowledge on to aspiring constructors. I am keen to continue in supporting and mentoring young people, which is the aspect of my job which is now most fulfilling. It would be great to see a higher number of young people getting into construction and really flourishing and developing in the sector.