Finding a future on the UTS Central work site
UTS Central is set to transform the futures of generations of students who walk through its doors. For two Indigenous brothers, however, the experience of working on the construction of UTS’s latest architectural masterpiece has already been life-changing.
Hundreds of workers are focused on completing the new student and faculty hub, ready for the opening of the first spaces in mid-2019. Among the work crew on the UTS Central site are labourers Andrew and Jason Huckstadt, who hail from Newcastle and the NSW Central Coast. Employed by Sydney Labour and hosted by main contractor Richard Crookes Constructions, the brothers have seen their prospects rise along with the building.
For 30-year-old Andrew, in particular, the project represents a major step into the kind of steady work that once seemed out of reach.
“I always wanted to work but it can be hard for people in Indigenous communities where the pathways into work aren’t always clear,” he explains.
“You fall into the trap of following the example you see in front of you. It’s no one’s fault, but with no stability in my life, I got on the wrong path and had some issues with alcohol. I was in rehab and looking for a second chance, got the opportunity here and grabbed it with both hands.
“Working here with the Richard Crookes fellas on this project, having the structure of coming to work each day, has helped me turn things around.”
Jackhammering, grinding, moving materials, fixing defects – it’s all in a day’s work for Andrew, and it comes with plenty of satisfaction.
“Knowing that other trades coming in are depending on me doing my job right makes me really proud, and it’s good to see the building progress the way it is.”
Andrew’s journey is not just about his own future but about the example he’s setting for his three children. “I’m showing my own kids what a working father looks like,” he says.
He’s also been an important influence for his 28-year-old brother Jason who, having joined Andrew on the UTS Central construction site, has gained vital experience. While knowing how to use a jackhammer and other power tools is useful, other skills have been just as important.
“I was very nervous when I came here as I didn’t have much experience,” Jason explains. “But the Richard Crookes team have been great with teaching and supporting me with gaining experience in construction. Being here gives you confidence that you can do the work and do it well.
“You also learn about teamwork and how to communicate with people, and you make new contacts, which are important in this industry.”
Jamie Crookes, Managing Director of Richard Crookes Constructions, says that – as a proud family-owned and -run business – RCC's values are embedded into the organisation's culture.
"We are committed to making a positive contribution to the communities we live and work in," he says. "We appreciate the importance of recognising the traditional custodians of the land on which we deliver each project, including the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on which the UTS Central development now stands.
"We also recognise that every project is an opportunity for us to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contribute to education and employment outcomes which extend beyond project delivery to create a long-term sustainable legacy.”
Andrew and Jason are supported by Scott Beetson, who connects Aboriginal workers with jobs in construction and other industries as the Indigenous Workforce Manager for Sydney Labour. The son of rugby league legend Artie Beetson, Scott pays regular visits to the UTS Central site and acts as a mentor to the brothers, both inside and outside of work hours.
He knows what a difference a job like this can make.
“You see a lot of blackfellas working on this site which is good to see. The main goal for these blokes is that they gain experience here, which will benefit them long-term. It’s a stepping stone out of adversity.
“A job like this can change someone’s life,” Scott adds. More than that. “When we see our mob flourish, it has a flow-on effect. It makes a statement to the whole community.”