Constructing Schools, Building Careers

Written by Steve Colquhoun

Schiavello Construction takes a hands-on approach to helping students choose a construction career, offering valuable experience in their own school’s work zone.


Opportunities for learning and work experience

Every school-based project undertaken in South Australia presents prime opportunities for learning and work experience for that school’s own students, and can even play a crucial role in their future career selection.

Students can immerse themselves in the many school-based construction and fitout projects across the state. They range from guided site tours and Q&A sessions with the construction team through to fully supported on-site work experience that can contribute to achieving VET learning qualifications, in what could be the first step towards a career in the construction industry.

In-school construction areas have traditionally been a strict no-go zone, with clearly marked barriers ensuring school inhabitants are kept a safe distance from the action.


Student site tour at Heritage College


An initiative breaking down barriers

As part of every education project, we offer the opportunity to cross the barriers with up-close-and-personal access not just to the working areas, but also to on-site construction professionals. Staff are also invited to engage with the progress of the works and discuss it with their students.

“It's good to make them a part of that journey because we're on their turf, and it makes them inclusive of the journey so they can experience what's going on,” Construction Director Dale Sweeney. “Because we separate ourselves from them for safety reasons, including them helps them appreciate what we do, why they might need to walk another 20 metres to get around a fence, and they’re more engaged and less resentful of those small inconveniences.”


Breaking ground at Kings Baptist Grammar School

Students encouraged to form a bond

Young students taking part in site tours not only showed a keen interest in the construction process, but also bonded more closely with the completed works.

By cultivating a sense of connection, students’ increased ownership for their environment has, in turn, fostered greater emotional engagement in learning activities.

“They're super-excited to see their space and it adds another level to what we do. We know that a student is more likely to succeed if they are invested in their learning - that’s quite rewarding for us as well.”

Peter Fairburn, Project Administrator

Student site tour at Emmaus Catholic School

Taking immersion to the next level

On secondary school projects, students flagging an active interest in the construction industry, or who are studying related VET courses, can join the team of Schiavello staff and contractors in a formalised and fully supported arrangement to work on their own school, says Schiavello Construction SA Project Manager Ben Tonkin.

“With primary school students, they're still touching and feeling and understanding, just learning generally. When you get through to high school, you're learning about the processes, but you're also starting to think, ‘what am I doing once I leave high school? What do I want to be good at? What subjects do I really need to lock down on?’,” he says.

“Having an onsite presence allows the students to shift from typical book-based learning to learning through hands-on experience. This allows students who are enrolled in VET courses such as Certificate I or II in Construction, or Certificate in Electrotechnology, to test the water on their preferred career path.”

Blackwood High School construction progress

The opportunity to make an informed decision

At a construction project at Blackwood High School in Eden Park, due for completion in July 2021, Schiavello is facilitating 15 students to perform work experience totalling more than 1000 hours of on-site work under the supervision of assigned trade contractors.

Schiavello also removes a roadblock by arranging and funding White Card training for students, a necessary safety qualification required to work in live construction environments.

“Through this program, Schiavello identified students who weren’t settled with their career path, and therefore we facilitated work experience across multiple trade contractors to allow the student to make an informed decision on their future.”

Benjamin Tonkin, Project Manager


Work experience at Blackwood High School

Empowered not to watch, but to work

A key focus is also ensuring work experience students are empowered to work, rather than simply observe or assist. “They don't learn a lot from standing around and watching. We've been really active with our subcontractors that these guys are coming in to learn and the only way they're going to learn is if they start to do,” Ben says.

“Make sure you're letting them get on the tools. If it’s carpentry, let them start to put up frames and cut materials and do site measures. Because that's when you really start to see the benefit. The ones that don't get given that opportunity generally tend to get pretty bored pretty quickly.”

It’s not only in traditional trades such as carpentry, electrical and plumbing that students can gain experience. Schiavello also offers opportunities for students to immerse into roles such as design, finance and project management.

Empowering students to work on their own school could also be a powerful engagement tool, Ben says. “They'll eventually walk in and go, ‘you know what? I helped build that wall’ or ‘I helped put that door in’. That's a massive win for those students and gets them excited about what they're going to do when they leave school.”