When it comes to career decisions, most of us make deliberate and active choices about the path we will take. But for Kevin Laidlaw, it was the misreading of a job ad that determined his professional destiny. And what a career it’s been!
At 80 years old, Kevin Laidlaw still puts in a solid 38-hour week as a steel reinforcement scheduler for ARC, The Australian Reinforcing Company in Melbourne. Laidlaw joined ARC in 1955, when he was 25 having originally joined the workforce as a fitter and turner at the age of 15.
“I thought the job ad said mechanical experience, but it turns out they wanted structural experience instead – I had misread the ad,” he says.
Laidlaw learned the art of scheduling at ARC on the job and it took a good four to five years before he was experienced to schedule all types of projects. “In those days, the company had a chief scheduler as well as lots of experienced schedulers whom would provide assistance to the newer schedulers during their learning process,” he explains.
According to Peter Molini, ARC’s national manager for Commercial & Technical Support, schedulers provide a critical link between the designer, the manufacturer and the builder on all building and infrastructure projects. “The experienced scheduler provides the most efficient scheduling solution to improve on-site steel fixing time and costs. He or she also identifies any anomalies or discrepancies in the architectural or structural documentation at the time of scheduling to eliminate any potential issues on site at time of placement.”
Molini says that to be successful in the job, a scheduler must have an extremely strong and diverse skill set. This includes technical knowledge of the building and construction industry, an ability to interpret structural and architectural drawings, strong mathematical and analytical skills, excellent communication, negotiation and customer service skills, an ability to work under pressure and high attention to detail.
Laidlaw adds: “It’s a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You need to bring together all the elements of the project and then present it in such a way that the guys on the factory floor, the builders, the engineers and the steel fixers can all understand it.”
An iconic career
One of ARC’s 53 schedulers in Australia, Laidlaw has worked on some of the country’s most iconic structures, including the Westgate Bridge, Melbourne City Link, the Melbourne Arts Centre and Crown Casino. His work has taken him to places such as Indonesia, where he spent a year training Indonesian schedulers in the 1970s.
From 1970 to 1985 Laidlaw took on the role of scheduling/production supervisor at the Hawthorn Service Centre and later the Richmond Service Centre. During this period Laidlaw was also responsible for training new schedulers on a one-on-one basis until they reached a competent level. He has trained the majority of the senior schedulers currently employed by ARC and its competitors in Victoria.
“Schedulers are not always given the credit they deserve in the industry but the reality is that we need them,” says Molini. “They perform a function on most projects that brings the designer, manufacturer and builder together. And they bear a lot of responsibility for making sure that the reinforcement deliveries are in line with the builder’s program, allowing projects to run smoothly and on time.”
Laidlaw agrees. “There’s no provision for wrong orders or for the wrong piece of steel to be put in place. A lot of things can go wrong because you are constantly analysing and calculating all day, so, you need to be on top of things. Plus you need to meet the expectations of the engineers and builders, as well as manage your own emotions when under pressure.”
So, why does he still do it? “I enjoy it,” he says. “Doing a job like this keeps my mind active and challenged. It keeps me going.”
Over the years, Laidlaw has had to adapt to industry changes, including the introduction of computers. But although he is computer literate, he believes that manual scheduling is no slower than scheduling with a computer. “A computer doesn’t manage people or your own emotions. It doesn’t tell you how to interpret a drawing or the best approach to take. Only years of experience can do that.”
According to a study conducted in 2006, schedulers are an ageing profession with the average age of ARC schedulers in Australia being 55. ARC is attempting to address this situation in their own ranks by taking on a number of trainee schedulers. “We are making the training up of a new cohort of experienced schedulers a priority, so that we can continue to meet the demands of the building and construction industry in Australia in the years to come,” Molini says.
As for Laidlaw, he plans to continue scheduling in 2011. “It’s been a great job and it still gives me a kick.”