Former apprentice of the year, now business owner and family man – all by the age of 29. We talk to Launceston builder James Noden about how he has laid the foundations for his career.
James, what drew you to the building and construction industry in the first place? When did you decide you wanted to pursue it?
I’ve always enjoyed being able to see what I had achieved each day. From Year 10 onwards, I knew that I wanted to get a trade but was unsure of the exact area. With help from trade teachers and career planning, I was able to do work experience in a range of trades. This experience confirmed that I wanted an apprenticeship in building and construction.
Can you paint a picture of what life was like in high school/college for you?
To be honest, in high school I wouldn’t have classed myself as an academic. I enjoyed woodwork and metalwork. My English and Maths were reasonable. I did well but I wasn’t the biggest fan of science after chemistry became a big component of the subject. In my spare time I enjoyed being outdoors so I played football and did rowing. When I was 15, I got a casual job at McDonalds and during school holidays I worked as a farm hand.
Looking back at high school/college days, what life skills did you start to develop that you use now?
I got to learn practical ‘hands-on’ skills. By studying subjects at school like woodwork and metalwork, I learnt essential skills I use every day at work. And playing in team sports like football, I learnt how to communicate with people from all walks of life. Also, what it takes to function in a team environment. My casual job at McDonalds developed customer service and time management skills. Both of which are crucial in running my own successful business.
In 2015 you won the Tasmanian Apprentice of the year. What attracted you to an apprenticeship in the first place? What was the apprenticeship experience like?
I wanted to work in building and construction, and I knew an apprenticeship was the best pathway. So after leaving school, I got an apprenticeship as an electrician. But unfortunately due to an economic downturn in 2008, the apprenticeship ceased. This felt like a kick in the guts. I decided to search newspapers for vacant positions and applied for lots of jobs. I was successful at gaining a position as a machinery operator at White Hills Vineyard. Whilst working fulltime, I obtained a Certificate II in Construction at TasTAFE. I also gained work experience at Vos Constructions. The company suggested I apply for an apprenticeship. That’s what I did, but I was unsuccessful. I kept working over the next year. Then I re-applied for an apprenticeship with Vos Constructions. This time I was successful. I made some life-long friends during this time of my life and have no doubt this helped to set up where my career is today.
You worked for one of the biggest construction companies in Tasmania. Then you decided to set up your own business as a sole trader. Can you explain why?
I enjoy the direct contact with clients involved in running a business. I’m able to deliver a high-end finished product and meet their expectations. I’m also good at communicating with clients and other tradesmen. Often plans change and it’s crucial to know how to deal with the unexpected in the right way. So you need to be able to troubleshoot. This can be challenging at times. You need to be able to coordinate with lots of people, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
"I think it’s always important to believe in yourself and accept that sometimes things don’t go quite as you plan."
What skills (soft and hard skills) have you found vital to working in the industry/or to owning a business?
Let’s start with soft skills. Communication skills are key to owning a successful business. Organisation and time management are also crucial. You need leadership skills too that I have learnt over time.
Hard skills includes keeping up to date with current building codes, procedures and standards. Also, having computer and technology skills is useful. Plus my previous work experience and qualifications assist me to complete everyday tasks.
What are some of the roadblocks you have hit so far in your career?
After the apprenticeship fell through, I realised it’s important to diversify my studies and not focus on one trade area. I needed to gain experience in other areas. I did this by obtaining my Cert II in Construction as well as gaining experience as a builder’s labourer.
You have a young family, how do you maintain work life balance?
This is always a challenging area for most small business owners. But by staying organised and allocating time for family life, you can find a happy medium. I make sure I allow myself adequate lead times to clients for quotes. It’s also important to keep up to date with bookkeeping and managing the current workload.
How does someone improve their career prospects in the building and construction industry?
To set yourself up to be successful in the trade industry, you need both skills and experience. Don’t expect everyone else to do it for you. Make calls and put the hard work in yourself. Persistence and a positive attitude always pay off in the long run.
Is there anything else you want to add that I haven’t asked about?
It’s always important to believe in yourself and accept that sometimes things don’t go quite as you plan. Diversify your studies. Know your strong points. And apply yourself to something you are passionate about. Success will follow.