Though founded officially in 2006, Civil Group (Aust) Pty Ltd represents the fourth generation of a family business that goes back more than a century. Building upon this strong foundation has helped the company grow from a small drilling contractor into a national construction company with claim to having Australia’s most comprehensive set of multi-disciplinary capabilities.
Founder and Managing Director Ben Juett recalls how he began Civil Group as a succession plan for Underdale Drillers: one of three separately owned companies operated by four siblings. “We began with just two drill rigs and a single base in Adelaide, but today we have more than 15 rigs and five different locations across Australia, as well as a presence in New Zealand,” he says. “We’ve gone from being a drill-only company to providing complete construction works and turnkey solutions for our clients.”
Ben believes that Civil Group’s turnkey contracting has become its greatest strength in a market filled with one-scope contractors. The management team – some of whom come from the original family business – possess a wide range of specialist skills and international experience that helps ensure the company is always ahead of the game. The company’s diverse services include design and construct, environmental monitoring, exploratory services, drill and blast, structural steel erection and everything in between.
“We’ll get involved right from the initial design stage, follow that up with the access and clearing works, construct the foundations and finally do the structural erection,” says Ben. “Even if a project involves something we haven’t done before, our clients will tell you that we’re the kind of company that will source experienced personnel and any equipment necessary in order to provide that service and cover the complete scope of work.”
Civil Group’s construction capabilities are complemented by its mineral exploration and geotechnical services, which enable it to provide comprehensive contracting for mining companies. Being on the project site from beginning to end allows time for the company to develop close relationships with its large minerals-industry clients, who include BHP, Rio Tinto and Downer Mining.
When it comes to delivering services to clients, Civil Group’s capabilities are only as good as its tools. Fortunately, these are also at the cutting-edge of the drilling and construction industry. The company’s own dedicated research, development and safety division is continually working to keep it ahead of the competition, coming up with new technologies that improve upon standard techniques.
One such innovation is Civil Group’s Investigative Drilling technology. This is a geotechnical investigation tool that analyses ground conditions over large areas, to help minimise the risk of problems arising during the construction phase. “Its real benefits are recognised over long-corridor works, such as transmission lines, pipelines, roads and bridges, where you’ll typically encounter huge variations in ground conditions,” Ben explains.
“Conventionally, companies will drill only a few investigation holes along the length of the corridor to identify what materials they’ll be dealing with; but, unfortunately, that leaves large black holes in information where they could encounter ground conditions they weren’t expecting. These might require different equipment and changes to the project design that will cause delays and cost impacts. In contrast, our Investigative Drilling technology provides strata verification across 100% of the project area for just 20% more of the cost. This ensures there will be no hidden surprises on a project – no risk – and in the long run this saves the client time and money.”
Civil Group sources further innovative technology from trusted suppliers such as Bay Shore, whose special LoDril rigs enable it to drill in situations with low headroom. Lodril rigs can get underneath bridges and into transmission line corridors while still achieving the large diameters and depths achieved by larger drills. “It’s a small product that can do very large jobs efficiently, and its compact size makes it easy to transport into the remote, rough-terrain areas in which we often work,” Ben remarks.
Clients and projects
Civil Group’s high-level capabilities and technology have won over a respectable array of clients, from tier-one companies such as John Holland Group, UGL, Laing O’Rourke and Lend Lease, to national and state governments. Ben mentions that often asset owners will be so assured of Civil Group’s reputation that they will hire them directly, skipping the middle-man entirely.
Transmission lines are a particular speciality of Civil Group’s and it recently completed a very large one for Powerlink: a 330 kilovolts transmission line from Fairview to Eurombah in Central Queensland. This was a huge undertaking, requiring 55 kilometres of transmission line to be constructed in a remote location.
In the minerals sector, Civil Group has just started bulk-sampling works for a large coal project in South Australia. “It’s a high-profile job for both us and the company, especially in the current market where many mining projects are being put on hold,” Ben remarks.
On remote projects such as these, ensuring the safety of staff becomes more crucial than ever. In this respect Civil Group goes beyond the standard requirements by reviewing its operations and collecting feedback from staff on a constant basis. “We’ve recently introduced a mandatory requirement for our onsite operatives to stop work once a week to review and rewrite work method statements, which are then discussed with the management team and used to optimise safety across all project sites,” says Ben.
Committed to never resting on his laurels, Ben has big expansion plans for Civil Group in terms of both scope and size. The first step is to retrain the workforce in new skill areas, so that each employee is able to transition between different types of work on projects. “Creating a more multi-disciplined workforce will reduce costs for our clients in reducing the need for mobilising different personnel onto site, while also ensuring that staff members have a wide range of skills that will secure their employment on projects,” Ben explains.
“In the long term we want to develop our skills beyond the sectors we work in currently and expand into the wider building industry. We’ll look at potentially making some acquisitions over the next few years that will bring knowledge from other sectors into our business.”
Civil Group has not made acquisitions before, says Ben, but is now ready to do so after several years of developing the business with this goal in mind. He’s also ready to expand the company’s global reach through offering its transmission-line services internationally. But however large the company grows, Ben is committed to maintaining its close-knit culture.
“With Civil Group being a family business, it’s not just about wearing the company shirt; people wear the Civil Group logo on their heart,” he remarks. “Our employees are very loyal and hard-working, and we’re lucky to have them. Some of them have been with the business for 25 years and I believe that shows what kind of company we are; we’re very family-oriented and we want to maintain that in the future, even as we expand.”