Building a firm around jobs in construction

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Building a firm around jobs in construction

Wild Geese: Annie Slattery, ConX, Sydney, Australia

 

Charlie Taylor

Annie Slattery of ConX: “Aussie builders love the Irish”

Annie Slattery of ConX: “Aussie builders love the Irish”

 

Moving to Australia has become a rite of passage for many young Irish people. For Annie Slattery, it also led her into a whole new career assisting those who arrive in the country to find work in the construction sector.

The Dubliner, who left Ireland to go travelling around the world in early 2009, has spent most of her time overseas living and working in Sydney, where she and co-founders Keith Moore and David Stenson run ConX, a construction jobs website that matches tradespeople to building contractors.

Currently only operating in New South Wales, Slattery and her team plan to roll out the platform nationwide over the next year and possibly further afield after that. For Annie, who has worked in a number of roles in the corporate sector, it is a break from the past but one she is happy to have made.

“I studied accounting and finance at college and loved it and went into the corporate world afterwards but it wasn’t really ever me. When we arrived in Australia, I worked with the Macquarie Group for three years and they were good enough to sponsor me but I always had plans to get out and do my own thing eventually,” she said.

In demand

Annie and her co-founders, one of whom is a carpenter, got the idea for setting up ConX when they saw the difficulties Irish backpackers were having getting jobs in the construction sector, even though there was a boom going on.

They realised tradespeople, or tradies as they are known in Australia, were in demand but that contractors didn’t know how to find them.

“Aussie builders love the Irish because they are well trained and work hard and so they were screaming out for them but didn’t have a clue where they were, as they usually rely on word-of-mouth to get workers. Keith is a carpenter so he could see first-hand how there were loads of Irish backpackers coming over looking for work who couldn’t find any because they had no connections here,” Slattery says.

“Along with Dave, who has a technical background, we set up a fairly basic classified jobs site to see if we could successfully connect tradies with contractors and things have gone from there.

“We quickly realised that it wasn’t just Irish backpackers who were having issues getting work in the sector, everyone was. There was no central platform connecting workers with employers so it was an industry-wide problem. Finding that out led us to go back to the drawing board and work on a more advanced platform that could match quality construction jobs with certified, reliable tradespeople in real time.”

Good growth

Originally called GetTradies, the platform relaunched as ConX in beta last August. The company is now seeing good growth with a large number of tradespeople registered and a wide selection of positions available.

“Initially we were working across every trade and we struggled to get traction because we were so broadly focused. We reined things in though and Keith tapped into his network of contacts and they passed the word around for us. From there we’ve been able to expand outwards again across all trades,” Slattery says.

Employers can sign up to ConX, create a new project and send out alerts to tradespeople that match the criteria. Jobs offered range from temporary ones lasting just a day or two to year-long contracts.

Contractors were previously charged on a pay-to-list model with a typical cost of $50 per job posting. However, the company has shifted to a pay-on-connection model where employers post jobs for free but are charged when a connection is made.

“We think we’ll eventually move to a subscription model as we grow but at the moment it is all about volume. We’re hoping to be nationwide over the next 12 months and to expand beyond that afterwards if we can find suitable international partners,” Slattery says.

While ConX is currently the only jobs-related online platforms in Australia to focus purely on the construction sector, the company doesn’t have the field entirely to itself.

“We’re competing with the likes of Gumtree, the jobs board Seek and another platform called LabourHire, which are all very popular but we’re getting well known because we’re focused solely on the construction sector,” she says.

With the Chinese economy slumping, there is concern over its effect on Australia. While Slattery believes it may lead to a slowdown, she thinks there will still be plenty of activity in the construction sector.

“There are lots of building projects happening right now and with the Commonwealth Games coming soon I think there will be enough going on to sustain us no matter what happens in China,” she says.

 

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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