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Specify Talks To: Sean Mullen, Contracts Director, QMAC Construction Ltd

Did you plan to get involved in the construction industry?

From a young age I had a problem-solving methodical mindset. I knew a career that involved a mixture of office-based work as well as site-based work would suit me. 

How did you start off?

I did a BSc (Hons) in Building at what is now Ulster University. On graduation, I progressed through roles including Planning Engineer, Site Manager, Contracts Manager, to the position I currently hold, which is Contracts Director at QMAC Construction Ltd. During the earlier stages of my career, I worked for companies including Higgs & Hill (London) McNamara (Dublin) as well as with Mivan, working throughout Europe and America. 

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

Working for Mivan was memorable; during my time there I was Project Manager on prestigious fit-out contracts for large cruise ships. For example, the two new-build contracts with Disney in Italy involved the fit-out of the internal themed areas as well as the bars, restaurants, and pool areas on the outer decks. Other refurbishment contracts involved boarding a cruise ship in Southampton and managing a fast-track refurbishment project in part of the ship while it was sailing to dry dock in the US. 

In recent years I have been involved in many rewarding projects in my role at QMAC Construction. Many of the projects create a lasting impact in local communities. The £2.3m restoration of The Workhouse in Enniskillen is an example. It is a Grade B2 listed Victorian building that had become an eyesore and a safety hazard for any potential trespasser since it became vacant. After being awarded the restoration contract by Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, we had 18 months to transform it. 

As a result of working with experienced consultants, supply chain members, and colleagues including management staff and skilled tradespeople, the building has been repurposed as a heritage centre and business enterprise hub. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing old buildings be transformed and repurposed. The restoration of St. Patrick’s Church in Donaghmore as well as the restoration of St. Jospeh’s Monastery in Dundalk also spring to mind when I think back on recent projects. Just this autumn I oversaw the handover of the refurbished and extended New Gate Arts & Culture Centre in the Fountain area of L’Derry. The new facility became a focal point for Halloween activities in the city. Contributing to the success of such projects and seeing local people in communities enjoy new facilities provides great satisfaction.  

What was the best piece of advice you have been given?

From working with and watching successful business leaders in construction companies, I have learned that it is so important to delegate. There are lots of roles and specialisms within the construction industry; to try and be an expert in every area would be virtually impossible. I ensure I have people well qualified and experienced as part of my team. I have also learned to give them space to carry out their role. 

What would you say to any student considering a career in construction?

For any student, I would tell them to be mindful in selecting a career. The construction industry is an exciting career option but different to the usual white-collar careers typically promoted by schools.If someone wants a fast-paced career which involves thinking on your feet, using communication skills including presenting, talking, and negotiating, is open to travel, and enjoys problem-solving, then the construction industry is a great choice.

Two big challenges that companies in the industry are addressing are how to become net zero, and how to embrace digital communication. There are plenty of opportunities for students, apprentices, and graduates for anyone who wants to get involved. 

Do you think the construction industry needs more support from Stormont?

The answer to this is simple. The UK is set up based on having a devolved government in each of the regions. Last year I was directly involved in overseeing the compilation of a tender for a school refurbishment project outside Belfast. Despite being the preferred bidder, the project was ‘paused’ due to a lack of available funding. It is still ‘on pause’ [at the time of writing this piece]. If there had been a stable local government, this would not have happened.

What needs to be done to help the construction industry?

The answer to this lies again with having a local government. Private sector growth and foreign direct investment are heavily dependent on having political stability. Without it, too many contractors are chasing too few public sector construction projects.

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