After 12 years as a builder, a desire to ‘get off the tools’ as he got older and started a family, led to Travis Shaw studying the New Zealand Diploma in Construction (Level 6), online with Open Polytechnic, completing both strands in Construction Management and Quantity Surveying.
Now working as a quantity surveyor at Calder Stewart Construction in Otago, he found his years on-site helped him thrive in an industry he is passionate about, and in a job where he is constantly learning.
When Travis first made the decision to ‘down tools’ and look into studying he said he struggled to think of what direction to take in his career.
“I initially struggled to think of what else I could do and the only other passion I had was design. So, while working as a builder with Calder Stewart, I enrolled in an architectural technology diploma at the Open Polytechnic."
“At the time I was doing a lot of ‘away work’ and we had our first child on the way. I wanted to be closer to home so when a quantity surveyor role came up at the company, they thought it would be a good fit and offered it to me.”
Luckily for Travis, the change of subject area was an easy transition, as the first nine courses he had already studied in architectural technology were also part of the New Zealand Diploma in Construction programme.
“It worked out really well, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Travis graduated from Open Polytechnic in 2020 and is now in his fifth year at Calder Stewart as a quantity surveyor, which included his time studying.
Quantity surveyors manage construction project finances by calculating budgets based on the client’s requirements and manage the construction contract through each stage of a project.
“When I first started as a quantity surveyor I was entry level and pricing woolsheds and farm buildings, for the first year to 18 months. Then, as I gained more experience, I moved into more light commercial and now I’m working on a mix of light commercial right through to quite large commercial projects."
“In my current role I’m responsible for pricing the job right through to running the financials on a few projects. This may also include sub-contractor letting, right through to progress payments each month, pricing variations and working alongside the client.”
Travis, said the benefit of having completed both the construction management and quantity surveying strands in the diploma was a broader knowledge of the project management side of the business.
“The extra courses you study on the construction management side give you a broader knowledge of project management and entry level construction management. It’s all added learning about the running of construction which helps in the long run.”
Balancing work and study
Travis says balancing full-time work and online study hasn’t always been easy, but he has valued the support from both his family and employer along with the shared experience of his many colleagues along the way.
“When I first started and was on the tools, I found balancing it all a bit harder. I was doing all my study at night, I was renovating a house and had a baby on the way."
“Then when I moved down into the office, fundamentally if I was up-to-date with my work, I was able to do some of my study during work time. This really helped a lot, but also just being around my colleagues including other quantity surveyors, project managers, and we even have our own design team - all in the office.”
Travis says having access to this wealth of knowledge, along with his background experience in the industry helped.
“It came in handy when just having discussions around the building code and all the requirements which a lot of the assignments were based on. I probably had an advantage there of inside knowledge to have those discussions with.”
Travis took three years to complete the diploma, starting out studying part-time in 2016 and moving into full-time study once in the quantity surveyor role.
Experience of online / distance learning
Travis said having the flexibility that online study provides suited him at the stage of life he was at.
“If I had tried to study online when I was younger – I am not sure I would have seen it through. As I have matured, it has suited me down to a tee. I didn’t have to stop working as I had a mortgage and a family to support. And the maturity helped me to stay focused and get things done.”
He also found the course structure and assessment type learning worked well for him.
“I definitely found the assessment type of learning worked for my style of learning rather than a focus on exams. Also my building knowledge really helped as it was directly relatable with the job. My years on-site meant I could visualise what they were talking about in terms of scenarios in the course material.”
His advice to those thinking about studying online is that time management is key.
“Definitely time management is so important. I was a bit of a procrastinator and the key is to approach it early rather than when the assignment is due. If you are going into this particular diploma, it does help to make contact with people in the industry that you can bounce ideas off and have that feedback.”
Travis says there is still plenty for him to learn in his role, which at times he likens to competitive sport.
“It’s a job where you are always learning for sure. And I have definitely got a passion for it. It’s quite challenging and has got a competitive nature to it. You’ve got to work hard to secure a job and win a tender. And then, when you are actually running the job, it’s got a competitive nature again where you are trying to beat your budget, or come in on budget at least. And then at the end of the project you go through your project again and review all the wins and losses. A lot of it is almost like a sport – just the competitive nature of it all.”
In the future he would like to continue working on larger tender commercial work but is happy for now to just keep learning and progressing.
“I’m definitely moving into more of an independent role, and realistically there is probably another couple of years before I am considered at the senior level. So plenty of room to grow and learn for sure. I am definitely on the right track.”