Mainteck Pty Ltd is a leading Illawarra-based provider of engineering construction and related services to the process manufacturing industries. The company’s reputation for engineering excellence, reliability and innovation has been built up for over 30 years. That long experience has led to expertise in a seamless range of services, from site construction to demolition, fabrication, machining and maintenance. Their capabilities cover large-scale projects to minor capital and maintenance works, all of which they are able to deliver to precise engineering requirements, safely and with quality assured.
Mainteck, as a company, began its life in 2002 following the merger of LJC Pty Ltd and DiPietro Engineering, both of which had well-established reputations in the region, LJC for their engineering construction expertise. “The core of the company’s been going for 40 years, and there are still people here who have been part of the original company,” explains Rory McNeill, General Manager for Mainteck.
The Illawarra region hosts several companies similar to Mainteck, McNeill explains. To survive, the company has to stand out. One of the chief ways they do that is by being construction focused. “Of the local, privately owned companies, it has more of a vision to pursue the larger and more complex capital jobs,” he says.
“Construction is what we really do well, but under that banner we also do demolition and a lot of dismantling and packing,” he adds. Maintenance work, he says, ebbs and flows and can account for anywhere between 25 and 50 per cent of their workload.
“We’re a company that has the capacity to be considered as an alternative to Tier 1 contractors,” McNeill says, explaining an additional way in which Mainteck sets itself apart. “There are some jobs that Tier 1 or Tier 2 contractors might be considered for, but we can come in and offer a slightly different service or delivery method. That’s what we see our market as being. We offer a construction service to a limited number of customers.”
Yet another way Mainteck differentiates itself is by getting to know those customers extremely well. Their whole business is modelled around keeping a small number of customers very close, McNeill explains. “We get a deep understanding of their business from both an operational and construction perspective, and we’re able to deliver complex jobs effectively because of that knowledge and deep understanding.”
McNeill describes Mainteck’s service philosophy as a total immersion in their customers’ business. “Culturally we have this common understanding that those customers are critical to us, and if there’s a problem we address it straight away,” he says. “We’re very open in our dealings with those guys. We’re very quick to identify issues as they arise, and seek to solve them before they’ve had an impact. We tend to be very transparent in the way we deal with them.”
McNeill points to Blue Scope Steel and their No. 5 Blast Furnace Reline project as being a good example of that kind of relationship in effect. From January through August of 2009, Mainteck did the major portion of the reline for them. During that project they had over 300 people working for them and logged over 340,000 man hours. “That was the most successful project Mainteck has done as an entity,” McNeill says. “It’s a point of pride.”
Full time, Mainteck employs roughly 100 people, and McNeill says the corporate culture is strong. Their turnover rate is very low, and he says their employees feel a strong bond to the company. “It’s a very, very stable employee-company relationship,” he explains. “We’re a unionised workforce, but we’ve got a very, very good relationship with the unions and with our blokes so we’ve never had an industrial dispute in our history and we just deal with issues as they come up.”
“We see ourselves as an employer of choice in that regard – in the way we look after our people,” he adds. “We’re in a service industry, so we’re only as good as our people. That’s a really important part of our culture.”
One of the keys to their strong culture is the type of work Mainteck does, according to McNeill. “It’s quite interesting,” he says. “And we can offer a fairly attractive remuneration to the guys, because the types of projects we do require a number of hours.”
Another factor that contributes to the positive employee-company relationship is Mainteck’s safety culture, which has grown with the industry. Mainteck’s people are highly trained and follow the most stringent quality and safety standards. A commitment to working safety begins with senior management and extends to all levels of the company, and their record of safety excellence ranks among the best in the country.
“Safety really is the number one priority for us,” McNeill says. “Because we’re such a low turnover company, everybody knows everybody really well. One of us getting hurt – just from an emotional point of view – has a huge impact on the company. For that reason alone, it’s unacceptable to even think about putting our people into situations where they could get hurt.”
“There’s a real sense of belonging, and a real sense of being looked after, working here,” he adds. “I think that’s what’s really engaged people and kept them loyal.”
The most significant challenge posed to Mainteck is the decline of the local steel industry, which has halved its production and pulled its expenditure back dramatically. “That’s had a huge effect on us,” McNeill says. “We went from being 95 per cent steelworks dependent this time last year to having less than 10 per cent of our work in the New Year being steelworks related. We’ve had to reinvent ourselves substantially as a business.”
That reinvention involves moving into mining and allied industries, where they aim to promote a remote service to sites in Queensland and northern New South Wales. “The challenge for us is developing that business model,” explains McNeill. “It’s about being able to liberate the capabilities and resources of the Illawarra to make them available in those remote locations, at a rate that’s attractive to the people using it.”
“What is different is that we are offering a complete, autonomous project delivery team – from project management down – resourced from our existing capabilities in the Illawarra,” McNeill elaborates. “We cover disciplines including civil, concrete, fabrication, machining, structural, mechanical and electrical – including switch room construction. Our services also extend to design and shop detailing services.”
Going overseas to acquire skilled labour is an industry trend in Australia, but McNeill says that companies have not fully utilized the skill that exists domestically – in the Illawarra, specifically. “It’s just a matter of tapping into the market for that skill and being able to deliver it from here.”
“We’re bidding several large packages of work in Queensland, New South Wales and elsewhere,” he says. “We’re setting up this regime of being able to mobilize our guys from here to service those projects. We’re hoping by the end of this year we’ll have that process fairly well worked out. That could see quite a few people engaged.”
McNeill says that doing jobs interstate will also help them pick up the jobs that exist locally – it will allow them to retain their capabilities and continuously demonstrate their skills.
“What we’re trying to do is consolidate the resources of the Illawarra to be able to take advantage of these larger opportunities for projects remotely,” summarises McNeill. “If we could have a significant number of people involved in that, and do that effectively, we could become an employer of choice in that regard.”
For Mainteck, the future lays in establishing and promoting that program. “There’s an opportunity to provide a highly skilled, very capable delivery team,” McNeill says. “I think we could be, with our local partners down here, a significant competitor to the Tier 1’s on some of these projects.”