Ken Smyth FCIOB, senior project manager at Maple Reinders in Canada, shares lessons learnt from his international career
What attracted you to the industry?
When I was a child, my grandfather had me working with him, building walls, mixing cement, fixing and repairing fences, cars, bikes and anything else that needed attention.
This trained my mind to be inquisitive, methodical and to see the end result and be proud of it. I was given a hammer, nails, a measuring tape and a saw and told to build a rabbit hutch at the age of nine.
I made scarecrows for neighbours and always loved working with my hands.
Construction came naturally to me, but I wanted to be a firefighter. I never did become a firefighter, but I certainly put out daily fires as a senior construction professional!
I wanted to be a firefighter. I never did become a firefighter, but I certainly put out daily fires as a senior construction professional
How does your experience of construction in Canada compare with your time in the UK and Ireland?
I spent more than 25 years in the construction industry in the UK, Ireland and Europe before emigrating to Canada in 2017.
Those six years in Nova Scotia, Canada have been a steep re-adjustment for me, mainly because of the terminology and the type of some construction materials used here.
Sometimes, it’s like going back 20 years and remembering the technology and materials, as well as the methods, we used in the UK and Ireland.
Other times it seems more advanced. Measurements are still imperial in a lot of sites and there is an ongoing transition to get to metric. I am fortunate to be of an age that I can use and interpret both.
What project have you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
I have worked on numerous projects, from Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland to the Historic Armouries in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I am currently managing the $457m design and build of an organics waste facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
What one thing would you change to make careers in construction more appealing?
I would love to see schools making construction more exciting to young children and some parents changing their mindsets about construction.
When I was a STEM ambassador, visiting schools and colleges, I always heard that construction is for the stupid people who didn’t do well at school.
That’s certainly not the case, if you research the talent we have in the CIOB membership pool. All walks of life, different backgrounds and educational levels and yet we all manage to get things built and keep the global economy going.
What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry today?
Set your path and be willing to learn every day and change direction at short notice, as the industry is fast moving and getting more and more innovative.
It has been a rollercoaster ride during my 34 years in the industry, but I wouldn’t swap it for any other career.