“I count myself lucky. I’ve seen technology evolve dramatically every seven years – and how that has improved everything we do”
A career in construction is nothing if not varied. Whether it’s the different roles, projects or people that you work with, the sheer range of opportunities is what attracts many of us to the sector. But in recent years the industry itself has been changing dramatically too – and that’s something that’s really exciting for Raymond Castelyn, Digital Construction Manager, BAM Nuttall.
Originally raised in South Africa, Raymond worked as a civil engineer and project manager on developments from wind farms in his homeland to bioethanol plants in the UK. The changes in technology that he’s seen over the years – and the odd challenging experience on his projects – have inspired him to focus on transforming the industry through digitalisation.
In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak to Raymond about his career in construction, building in the UK and South Africa and how continual learning is driving him forward, even today.
What first got you into construction?
From being a young child, I loved playing with Lego and the experience of building things. I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to go into construction, and eventually I studied civil engineering, before landing my first job with a local contractor in South Africa.
When I was about 23, I decided that I wanted to take my career to the next level – and that’s when I moved to the UK for my first role at BAM Nuttall. I’ve worked my way up, from tasks like setting out as a site engineer to project management and finally digitalisation. In that time, I’ve worked on railways, marine engineering, wind farms and bridges: a long way from Lego bricks.
Why do you continue to build today?
Since early on in my career, I’ve liked finding new ways to do stuff smarter. While I was studying, I bought a very good calculator and wrote my own code to work out complex calculations. Now that I work in digitalisation, it’s great to be able to give people a solution that will solve their problems straight away.
I also value the variety. You can never have the same day twice in construction (although when things go wrong it can feel like it’s been two, three or even ten days in one).
Every day brings its own challenges, and you always have to be on your toes.
What project are you most proud of and why?
In 2015 I worked on the Gibson Bay Wind Farm, a £250m project in South Africa. It was a stunning place to work, next to a nature reserve on the coast, against a backdrop of rolling hills. That was my first opportunity to work as project manager and use my experience to put a stamp on a project.
Unfortunately, it was one of the most complex wind farms in South Africa at the time, thanks to issues like complex geology. I was on call 24/7 and didn’t sleep properly for months! But ultimately, we had a great team ethos and overcame every challenge to deliver the wind farm to a very high standard, within budget. We had zero lost time injuries (LTIs) and achieved two million safe working hours, which was a big achievement for everyone involved.
One lesson for me from this project is the importance of information-sharing of processes. Visibility was a challenge; we were working across 42km of site roads, so it was really difficult to locate photos taken for progress records and snag reports. At the time, we didn’t have the tools needed to digitalise. When I came back to the UK in 2017 and saw BIM 360, I thought it could have saved us millions!
What do you spend the most time doing at work?
For part of the week, I currently work at BAM Nuttall on a £2.5bn Rail framework as a Digital Construction Manager. My main roles include identifying problem areas and implementing suitable digital solutions to deliver the right outcomes for projects.
I focus on technologies including 360-degree photos, 4D visualisations, augmented reality buried service management, digital site data capture and data analytics. For example, I’ve just finished working on a railway project in Merseyside, where we saved 13.4 hours per week per person using BIM 360.
For two days a week, I work at my own company Paperless Construction, which focuses on digitising the workforce and training records. It puts me in a unique position of seeing the best digital transformation practices across the industry.
How has using technology changed the way that you work?
I count myself as really lucky to have seen technology evolve. When I was a teenager, I remember Windows 95 coming out and that was really transformative. Since then, I’ve seen a significant change every five to seven years in technology – and that has improved everything that we do.
Going back to my early days as a site engineer, we had to painstakingly fill in our quality reports on paper – and even then, because information was recorded away from the site, it wasn’t a perfect record. Now we’re in a position where someone can record information on-site with an iPad in London, and you can see it instantly from the office in York.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of technology on efficiency, but I think eliminating paper alone has saved 50% of the time spent on project management compared to the start of my career.
Now construction is starting to really connect the dots between different datasets – and the potential for removing manual data processing, improving reporting and enabling predictive analysis is huge.
What do you love most about the construction industry?
We’re the first people on any location. I’ve been to remote parts of the UK, South Africa and even Turkey that I would never have got to visit otherwise. When you arrive, there’s nothing and all you have is a plan in hand of what to build. Then when you leave, there’s a new bridge, building or tunnel. We’re creating a legacy for the current generation and the people that follow us.
Beyond that, I love the range of people that you get to mix with. Construction has a transient workforce, so every day you meet new people and get these rich multicultural, multidisciplinary interactions – and that’s not the case in a lot of industries.
Do you have thoughts you want to share with the next generation of construction employees?
It’s really important for young people to know that the construction industry is open to everyone, and all skills. You don’t need a civil engineering degree to be a great project manager, for example. We also have huge opportunities in areas like R&D, marketing, HR and technology. And the UK especially is a great for working on new projects and gaining new experiences.
If you do join a career in construction, my advice would be never stop learning. No one ever knows everything and we all learn every single day of our lives. Don’t rely on your employer to teach you; 90% of what I do today has been self-taught or learned from my colleagues. Read, watch videos, figure out new processes and run tests to see what works. Most of all, believe in yourself and follow your dream: that’s how you find your specialism and the foundation to build a great career.