Hear from HKA Colleague, David Foxley, on working in the social infrastructure sector

7th May 2019


What is your role at HKA?

I’m a Director and leading the Advisory business stream in Melbourne. It’s mostly a Consulting and Expert team here, so together with my colleague Nicolette Cumbo, we are building the Advisory business in Victoria.

What is your background?

My background is very much in infrastructure, including a lot of Social Infrastructure. When I first started in the industry, I was building port facilities and a military explosives facility in Hong Kong before moving into health; spending 5 years building a 600-bed hospital there.

Moving to Australia in 2000, I led a team constructing the new Austin and Mercy Hospital in Heidelberg, Victoria and then took on the role of General Manager of Infrastructure & Development at Melbourne Airport. Returning to the Social Infrastructure sector, I was the Client’s Representative on the Melbourne Brain Centre, followed by Project Director for the rebuild of the Royal Hobart Hospital in Tasmania. More recently I have been working on university and health buildings in New South Wales.

My strength in delivering Social Infrastructure projects is I’m engaged, committed and enthusiastic. It really thrills me when people move into the building after having seen it grow from ideas, through construction, and then ultimately handing over a fantastic facility. Working in Social Infrastructure means you are truly giving back to the community.

How does some of the skills you learnt from the military help you to manage projects?

Very early in my career I worked in the military and one of the key things they teach you is to follow process – to do things in a certain way. In war situations, you need to follow a process with a definite result in mind. It is an important attribute.

The other thing they teach you is leadership. The military is very good at training leaders and teaching them to manage people well; ultimately if you do go into combat you need strong leadership to survive. A lot of my cohorts from the army are now working in Project Management which doesn’t surprise me.

What industry trends are you seeing that will affect the Social Infrastructure sector in Victoria over the next few years?

At an Industry Briefing recently, the Victorian Government announced a large pipeline of health projects with $4.2 billion allocated for the sector. One of the issues pushing this spend is population growth and the need to develop our health system to cater for it. Population growth is causing issues for other sectors too such as education, road and rail.

As organisations compete for all these planned infrastructure projects, the industry will need adequate resourcing to deliver. With New South Wales 2 years ahead of Victoria in terms of infrastructure spending focus, HKA is ideally placed to offer lessons learned from our involvement in many of the large projects currently under construction such as Sydney Metro and WestConnex.  We are also looking overseas to find technically qualified people that are finishing at other mega-project such as HighSpeed Rail and Crossrail in the United Kingdom to cater to these projects in Victoria.

The Tertiary Education sector is also going through a lot of rebuilding in Victoria. Universities need to renew their facilities and schools are a major focus. We are seeing an increase in the construction of vertical schools in densely populated areas with no land, as well as ‘pop-up’ schools using modular buildings are also proving popular due to the speed of construction.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about sustainability and the affect we have on the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the use of fossil fuels, the earth’s mean surface temperature has increased exponentially. Global warming is a reality so doing something about the damage is critical and something we can all be involved with – whether it’s domestically, commercially or the use of materials such as plastics. Recycle what we do have or find ways to use other materials.

What is sustainability in infrastructure?

Sustainability must be introduced at the concept stage – not just in design and construction but the operation and maintenance of assets. It’s a whole of life issue. We need to encourage pro-active discussions on how much of the earth’s resources we use and how much energy we use during construction.

Our industry is getting better at sustainability. I think people can be afraid that it will cost more but it’s mostly just a lack of awareness of what’s available. The market is highly competitive right now, so you have to make people think about it by including sustainability in tenders. And then once a contract has been awarded, you need to supervise it to make sure sustainability initiatives are implemented. It won’t be long until reporting on sustainability becomes mandatory, with Government driving it.

The word ‘innovation’ gets used a lot these days. What do you think an innovative company really looks like?

An innovative company is made up of people who think outside the box. They don’t necessarily do the same job as the last one. At HKA we look at each problem with a fresh approach and find the best, simplest, technologically acceptable answer to it.  It’s about putting people together and talking about the possibilities; not accepting doing the same thing all the time. It takes effort and motivation.

I think you need passion for Social Infrastructure to get the right results. It’s important to be part of the process and involved with the designers and builders, as well as deal with the owners of the buildings. In the health sector it’s imperative to keep a high level of stakeholder engagement right through to handover and that means regularly engaging with the facility users – the nurses, surgeons and specialists.”
David Foxley, Director, HKA