At Outpost Recruitment, we strive to build learning tools to help newcomers be successful in Canada. We’ve invited a range of successful immigrants, across various construction and engineering roles, to share their experience in moving to Canada and growing their career. First up, Colin Rigney chats with Ruairi Spillane and shares his experience in moving to Canada to work as a Construction Project Manager with a Main Contractor.
Colin Rigney – Construction Project Manager, Buildings (Main Contractor)
Having relocated to Canada in 2011, Colin is currently a Project Manager with Clark Builders working on an $80M high-rise mixed-use development on Jasper Avenue in downtown Edmonton. Colin previously worked as a Contracts Manager with John Paul Construction in Dublin. Colin has three small children (one true Canadian) ranging in age from 1 to 5 years old. Before life with children he was an avid scuba diver and loved to travel. He enjoys all types of sports and since moving to Canada, he has taken up curling and plays in a rookie league in the local curling club during the winter months. During the summer he enjoys a lot of long weekends away camping with friends.
Your move to Canada
Why did you choose Canada?
When I was trying to decide where to move (during April through June of 2011), I considered several places such as:
- London: My view was that this market would take a nosedive after the 2012 Olympics. In addition, I didn’t fancy the long commutes in London.
- Middle East: I was not interested in moving my family to a country where women were treated as second-class citizens and was not interested in leaving my family in Ireland and seeing them every couple of months. Further, the Libyan and Syrian civil war had commenced and riots had just started in Bahrain.
- Australia: At the time, we were hearing that future growth in Australia was in jeopardy. Also, from a distance perspective Australia seemed too far for parents/siblings/friends to be able to travel to see us on a regular basis.
- Canada: My wife and I visited Edmonton for a week in June 2011 and it was then that we decided that we were going to move to Canada primarily due to:
- Clark Builders and the overwhelming welcome that we received;
- Friendliness of the people in general;
- It was a place that we really could see ourselves living in and where we could raise our children;
- Endless opportunities here for the entire family;
- Perceived similar culture to Ireland; and
- Closer distance to Ireland than Australia.
Finally we moved to Canada in September of 2011.
Was career progression or lifestyle a bigger decision factor in the decision?
Both formed an important part in the decision-making process but quality of life was definitely more important to us.
What made you choose Edmonton?
We had never heard of Edmonton until we started talking with Clark Builders. Edmonton is where Clark Builders’ head office is based and this is where my job offer from Clark came from so the choice was made for us!
Did you move to Canada alone?
No – my wife, my two young children and I moved to Canada together. My wife and I had always agreed that we would stay together as a family unit wherever we decided to go. We were not interested in the family staying at home and me travelling abroad to work.
Your education and professional experience prior to Canada
What motivated you to study construction?
I had always been interested in construction from a young age. My primary qualification is a degree in Civil Engineering from UCD.
To what extent did your career diverge from the original plan (if any)?
Not really much apart from the fact that I am now living and working in a different country – this was not part of the original plan!
Briefly highlight your career path prior to moving to Canada.
- BE UCD (1997)
- Site Engineer John Paul Construction (1997)
- Site Engineer Noonan Construction (1998)
- Senior Engineer John Paul Construction; completed a part time Diploma in Trinity College in Project Management at the same time (1998)
- Construction Project Manager, John Paul Construction (2000)
- Contracts Manager, John Paul Construction (2008)
- Moved to Canada (2011)
Preparing for the move
What did you know about your career prospects in Canada?
I had secured a job with Clark Builders before we moved over; however, coming to a new country I knew that I would have to take step backward in order to move forward.
What did you do to prepare for your move? What was the biggest challenge?
Lots of research on the Internet and as well, Clark Builders were also a huge help. We came over to meet with Clark Builders before they made us an offer and before we decided to move. Clark Builders organised a number of appointments for us during this week including a meeting with a mortgage broker and a realtor who showed us a number of properties.
Had you previously worked in a foreign country?
I had worked in New Jersey, USA for 4 months on J1 Student VISA.
Did you have a professional network in Canada prior to your move?
None, apart from the contacts we had in Clark Builders.
Your professional development in Canada
How did you find your current role?
I was approached by a recruiter in Ireland who was recruiting on behalf of Clark Builders.
What are the key differences between your role in Canada and Ireland?
- The majority of prime contracts here in Canada are either Construction Management or Lump Sum contracts, whereas most contracts in Ireland are based on BOQs (Bill of Quantities) and are typically re-measurable. I have personally not come across BOQs here in Edmonton.
- Relationships, roles, responsibilities and reporting requirements are quite different on Construction Management contracts.
- The project management (PM) role here is a lot more financially orientated and financially hands-on with primary responsibility for compilation and issuance of budgets and forecasts etc. to clients/owners and internal company reporting. Most of this role is fulfilled by a quantity surveyor (QS) in Ireland whilst the PM will manage the overall process; the PM will review the budgets and forecasts but not actually produce them.
- The majority of subcontracts are lump sum and most PM’s will typically tender and award each subcontract package themselves.
- Winter construction and seasonal work in Alberta means you take on a big learning curve and is something that we don’t deal with in Ireland. We typically don’t pour concrete in Ireland below +5 degree Celsius; we pour concrete in Alberta into the high minus teens!
Was there anything you could have done prior to your move to prepare?
Learn Canadian! We had done a lot of preparation and research and suppose the only thing to do next, was actually move and grab the bull by the horns and go for it!
Working environment in Canada
Is the working environment in Canada similar or different to previous locations in which you have worked?
It is similar to Ireland in the boom years – good positive and dynamic environment to work in.
What are the main challenges you had to overcome to adapt to your role?
- Adjust to a new company’s management style and expectations.
- Big learning curve on the financial reporting and forecasting side of things
- Winter Construction
- Subtrade scope delineation is somewhat different.
What actions did you take to help you settle into your new work environment?
Asking my colleagues plenty of questions!
How is the work-life balance in your profession?
I would guess that work-life balance in the construction industry in general is not good but it is also my view that this is really dependent on two key drivers:
- Company Ethos
- Personal Preference and Time Management
Clark Builders promote a good work-life balance and I personally have always maintained a good work-life balance – work to live rather than live to work!
How would you rate the career prospects for newcomers in your role/industry?
The construction industry is booming here in Alberta so there is a lot of potential to gain some great experience for future career growth. Also, there will always be construction in some part of the world!
Your lifestyle in Canada
What do you like most about Canada?
The genuineness of the people, the Rockies, camping (hard-core tenting style), Alexander Keith’s (Canadian beer) and curling!
What actions did you take to help you settle in Canada on a personal/family level?
Get out there, get acquainted and make friends and get a good babysitter!
Do you see Canada as a long-term home?
That is the Million Dollar Question… who knows what the future holds?
What was the best career advice you have received?
If you are going to do something, do it with a smile or it will take all the good out of it.
What advice would you give to people looking for work in your field?
I will answer this in terms of Construction Project Managers looking to relocate to Canada;
- Come with an open mind and be prepared to take a step back for a year or so until you adapt to the PM role here in Canada. This will also probably be reflected in your initial offer in terms of starting salary.
- There is a good contingent of Irish people and other nationalities now living and working in Canada. Reach out and connect – you will generally know someone who knows somebody who can give good advice about a company you are dealing with or an area that you are looking to relocate to. LinkedIn is a good resource for this.
- Be prepared to make some lifestyle changes as it may take up to 18 to 24 months or so to become financially stable; this is very much dependent on personal circumstances. There are a lot of initial out-lay costs which is inherently associated with any major relocation.
Follow Colin’s path
Interested in working in construction or engineering within Canada? Want to find a role like Colin’s?
We’ve recently rebranded the Moving2Canada Recruitment agency under the name Outpost Recruitment.