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A students take on UTS Construction Project Management

2 June 2017

Discussions with Sam Kerfoot, Bachelor of Construction Project Management

Firstly, can you please tell us why you chose to study at UTS?

I believe that UTS’s reputation for its Construction Project Management course far exceeds other universities in NSW. There are other universities who offer similar courses, however, I believe that UTS better prepares its students for the industry by incorporating both theory and hands-on, real-life experience, into its courses.

Graduating with a Bachelor in Construction Project Management at UTS leaves students with the flexibility to pursue various paths within the industry. There are different options available for students, including roles such as: Project Management, Construction Management, Contracts Administrator, Site Management, BIM Management and alike.

The compulsory work experience component of the program is a drawcard for many prospective students, what has been your experience working in industry while studying?

Typically, the majority of students will study the first one to two years of their course full-time, without working in the industry, while on the other hand, other students will work in the industry right from the get go. There is no right or wrong approach to this as the course requires 200 days of industry experience that can be carried out at any stages during the course prior to graduation. You’ll find that the further you progress through the course, the more technical and industry-specific the subject topics will get. You’ll often find that students who are working in industry will grasp these concepts easier than those who don’t work, due to the on-site exposure, which ties in perfectly with the course topics.

I’ve been working in industry for 4 years. I first began working at the start of my degree in 2013 with A W Edwards.  I am still with A W Edwards and work as a site engineer. I’m currently involved in the construction of a Rail Operations Centre for Sydney Trains where I’m responsible for managing the structural trades, as well as working closely with the design engineers to coordinate the structural design on site.

Another advantage of studying CPM at UTS is its well-structured course and effective class timetables that provide students with an achievable work-study balance – a perfect combination of full-time study and work experience.

Finally, what do you love about UTS and the course?

I really enjoyed the elective subjects I completed – they often consisted of small classes between 15-20 students, and were intimate and engaging, which allowed for healthy and valuable class discussions. The subjects challenged you, as they weren’t structured like a typical core subject. They were run in block classes with loads of group work. They were all very practical and industry relevant, allowing you to really immerse in the subject, this made the subjects interesting and worthwhile.

It was great to meet and work with students from different faculties – they all offered a different perspective, which was refreshing and insightful. Conveniently, all of the subjects also involved overseas travel, which was awesome! Having worked in the industry for almost four years in Sydney, I was very interested in the construction market and industry overseas and wanted to learn more about it, and I found that these elective subjects were the perfect way to explore this curiosity.

Construction for Developing Communities, which I completed in Autumn 2016, was a definite standout. Michael Er, the subject coordinator, took a class of 23 UTS students to Komandoo – a remote island situated in the Maldives. Here, we undertook volunteer work for a week at a local school, paving and constructing a new enclosed sheltered area for the Island’s desalination plant. It was a great insight into foreign construction methods, and the use of local materials. Working in a foreign environment with different cultural beliefs, societal expectations and way of life appeared to be challenging, however, from the moment we stepped off the boat and were greeted by local Komandoo women handing out flowers and cold fruity juice drinks, I instantly felt at ease.


Sekisui Eco First House staff.

You recently travelled to Vietnam and Japan as part of an International Construction subject, why you decided to take part?

Ok, let’s be honest, when you get the opportunity to travel overseas for a subject at University, you’d be mad not to take up the offer! As much as the travel aspect appealed to me, there were other factors that also influenced my decision to apply for this subject.

Having visited Vietnam at the start of 2016, I couldn’t believe the extent of construction taking place throughout Hoh Chi Minh City. I was intrigued how a country, who severely struggles with its social, political and economic stability, could regularly deliver high-end, billion-dollar construction projects.  So, when I was told that we were going to visit Vietnam and experience first-hand how these projects were constructed and managed, it was a definite yes from me! The subject offered the opportunity to experience construction across three vastly different countries, and draw interesting comparisons to my own experiences in Australia.

Ho Chi Minh City streets.

What were the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of the experience?

The entire trip was a blast! The opportunity to travel abroad coupled with the relevant and exciting construction exposure made the three-week trade-off between Sydney’s summer and Japan’s winter a worthwhile compromise – just. I was very grateful to have met and talked with the various industry professionals, some of which I still remain in contact with.

What differences did you notice in the construction methods practiced overseas vs. in Australia?  

During the three days we were in Vietnam, we were given the opportunity to sit down with expats and locals across different construction professions, and discuss with them their role in their company and how working in Vietnam differs to working in the Western countries such as Australian and the UK. They opened up about their experience working in Vietnam, the challenges they face – personally and socially – and the benefits of working in a country like Vietnam. The industry professionals included: quantity surveyors, engineers, architects, property developers and construction managers, from companies including, WT Partnerships, Aurecon, dwp Architects, SonKim Land, MACE Vietnam and Sapphire Vietnam, respectively.

Gateway Thao Dien project in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Steel work on the Gateway Thao Dien project.

The Japanese are a stark contrast to the Vietnamese – socially and culturally. I’ve never come across a society quite like the Japanese. They are an energetic, hard-working, homogenous society, with a noticeable sense of nationalism, and it’s this inherent natural sentiment, which I believe is reflective in their niche construction methods. They approach a construction project like they would with any task – with pride, passion, originality and a high attention to detail. The Japanese are highly skilled people. They are natural born innovators, rarely content with a newly designed product or system.

Sekisui House display homes.

During our time in Japan, two Sekisui House representatives – Kazumi and Fumi, took us on a two-day tour. On our first day, we were taken to various Sekisui House display homes, manufacturing lines, Resource Recycling Centers, and an Eco First Park – Sustainable Housing. For me, the Resource Recycling Centre was a real eye-opener and reminiscent of a classic “Yeah, it looks good on paper” response to an idea, although in Japan, it wasn’t just good on paper, it was even better in real life! In fact, 100% of building waste is recycled for house construction without additional wastage. Remarkably, all rubbish, off-cuts and unused material from new residential construction sites, factories, after-sales maintenance construction sites and property remodeling sites, are collected and sent to the nearest Resource Recycling Centre, where various recycling processes are used, often involving extreme levels of detail, requiring careful human labour.  For example, the plastic components of insulated copper-clad cables are separated from the copper using hot water and then reused in the production of other building products. Traditional Japanese Tatami mats that had been damaged during installation were broken down and separated into different components – such as composite resin and polyethylene; also, fibre cement boards were ground and mixed with powdered eggshells to create a powder used for line marking.

It was incredible to see the detail and effort the Japanese would put into this work. The factory itself was immaculate and every worker was well groomed, wearing the correct PPE.