Outpost Recruitment: Don Breen Career Profile

How can I be a Commercial Business Manager in Canada? Our career profile of Richard Shipway.

At Outpost Recruitment, we strive to build learning tools to help newcomers be successful in Canada. We’ve invited a range of successful immigrants, across various construction and engineering roles, to share their experience in moving to Canada and growing their career.

In the latest of our series, Richard Shipway chats with Ruairi Spillane and shares his experience in moving to Canada and his wide-ranging career.

Commercial Business Manager in CanadaRichard Shipway – Commercial Business Manager in Canada – Axiom Builders

Richard was born in the UK, and emigrated to Vancouver in 1997. Richard and his wife have settled in North Vancouver.

Richard is strongly involved in the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA).

Over his twenty years in the Vancouver construction market, Richard has worked with Altus Group, Ledcor and Axiom Builders.

Your move to Canada

Why did you choose Canada?

My great uncle had immigrated to Red Deer, Alberta, 80 years ago so I was always curious about Canada.

I came to Canada for the first time on vacation 21 years ago with my wife, and did a road trip around British Columbia and Alberta taking in the Rockies. It was absolutely spectacular and reinforced our wish to live in such a beautiful, clean, vibrant city.

We decided we both needed a new challenge, and we focused on living in Vancouver.

Was career progression or lifestyle a bigger decision factor in the decision?

Definitely lifestyle. When I lived in the UK, I spent up to four hours commuting each day and worked a 12-hour day. I had lots of money but no lifestyle.

What made you choose Vancouver?

We fell in love with Vancouver when we visited. The weather in Vancouver seemed to be very similar to what we were used to in the UK, given it doesn’t get too harsh winters like other parts of Canada. We also knew that Vancouver was a very progressive city so there would be lots of opportunity. And of course, the people: friendly, welcoming, and diverse.

Did you move alone?

I moved with my new wife, just five days after our wedding in December 1997. Canada was going to be a long-term honeymoon for us.

Your education and professional experience prior to Canada

What motivated you to study Quantity Surveying?

I spent my summers as a teenager working in construction.

When I left school, I worked with a general contractor, gaining lots of experience in various roles in the company. After doing some estimating, I thought being a QS was the best fit for me.

I changed companies and was employed as a QS with a day at University. After two years, I had gained a diploma. Afterwards, I went to university full-time for two years to gain my degree in Quantity Surveying, and RICS designation.

To what extent did your career diverge from the original plan (if any)?

Having started as a labourer for a summer job with a contractor, my career evolved as each new opportunity was found or presented itself.

It’s always important to be flexible and willing to try new things. You never know where you will end up.

Briefly highlight your career path prior to moving to Canada.

1991 – 1995 > QS consultancy
1996 – 1997 > Senior QS with Takenaka (UK)
1998 – 2003 > Cost Consultant with Altus Group in Vancouver
2003 – 2009 > Senior PM with Ledcor Group
2009 – 2017 > Project Director with Ledcor Group
2017 – Present > Commercial Business Manager in Canada with Axiom Builders

Preparing for the move

What did you know about your career prospects in Canada?

Very little. I was 30 years old and keen for adventure so promised myself to give a two-year minimum trial. Doing some research at home, I sent out half a dozen prospective resumes and made some initial contact to various potential employers.

What did you do to prepare for your move? What was the biggest challenge?

Speaking with other British expats was very useful in terms of understanding how things differ between the UK and Canada. Being open to working quite differently and embracing it was crucial to my success in Canada from a work perspective. Always being humble and respectful.

Had you previously worked in a foreign country?

No, and hadn’t really ever considered it either.

Did you have a professional network in Canada prior to your move?

No. I had chatted with one individual prior to my move, but had no solid contacts in Canada. When we arrived, we knew nobody at all.

Your professional development in Canada

How did you find your current role?

I was contacted by an industry recruiter I had known for many years about an opportunity to lead a new division in an existing leading general contractor. After several months of discussion, I started in my new role – re-energized, and excited to start something new.

Was there anything you could have done prior to your move to prepare?

Selling my house in the UK prior to my move would have made things much easier. I would strongly encourage anyone moving to wrap up your business at home first. It’s a big move changing countries and there’s lots to learn and enjoy – so to concentrate on that is enough for anyone.

Have your career objectives changed since you arrived?

Totally. I’m now involved in various construction associations and represent my company at many levels, so my role is much more political and industry-shaping. Promoting the construction industry with children is something I really enjoy and I’m also involved in more volunteering and a diversified field of mentoring.

Working environment in Canada

Is the working environment in Canada similar or different to previous locations in which you have worked? ?

There was little quality of life for me working in the UK 20 years ago, but I hope things may have changed. Canada has a great work-life balance, and there is a strong emphasis on networking, especially in Vancouver. It’s considered OK to leave the office at 6pm and leaving before your boss!

Canada is a large country, so different experiences are available in different areas. The principles of collaboration, hard work, humility, respect, and fun remain.

What are the three main challenges you had to overcome to adapt to your role?

  • Re-inventing myself as a Project Manager as my background was as a QS.
  • Networking, and lots of it – it’s all about who you know in Vancouver.
  • Different approach to business, processes, and procedures, much more relaxed and people-centric.

What actions did you take to help you settle into your new work environment?

  • Research in the form of informational interviews,
  • Networking – meeting as many people as possible,
  • Getting involved in as many events and organizations as I could,
  • Being open to learn, especially in a different way. Asking questions more often.

How is the work-life balance in your profession?

Great. The focus here is on getting the job done instead of clock watching. Titles are much more irrelevant, as are qualifications on business cards, and we generally work as a team to succeed.

How would you rate the career prospects for newcomers in your role/industry??

Very strong. The workload continues to be strong in Canada, leading the world in P3’s, for example. It’s a very stable and secure country with strong growth, and plenty of room for opportunities and innovation.

The industry actively recognizes more qualified people are required in all roles, and is much more sophisticated in its growth and training opportunities.

Your lifestyle in Canada

What do you like most about Canada?

  • Safe, clean, happy country.
  • Lots of opportunity here with a strong stable economy.
  • It’s a young country which means there is lots of innovation, heavily backed by the federal government.
  • Lots of exciting construction projects taking place, innovative and world-leading.
  • The business environment is very much people-focused with a strong emphasis on networking.

What actions did you take to help you settle in Canada on a personal/family level?

Focusing on my kids really helped me integrate, by taking part in schools and activities.

Getting involved and enjoying the place I live in. Being a tourist is okay even when you live here.

Do you see Canada as a long-term home?

I’ve been here for 19 years now, so yes! I have had offers from other parts of the world but it’s difficult to leave Vancouver. It’s a beautiful, secure place, full of opportunity and a real life balance. My two sons were born here, and even though we have travelled extensively, this is still home.

Success factors

What was the best career advice you have received?

Be humble, respectful, and treat people well. Respect, listen and seek advice from others.

What advice would you give to people looking for work in your field?

  • Your word and integrity are extremely important in Canada. Building strong relationships and networking to build your contacts will help you succeed
  • Don’t reinvent your career before you come here. Get established here before you make any career changes.
  • Be patient and have a 5-year plan
  • Move for lifestyle and not $$

Follow Richard’s path

Interested in working in construction or engineering within Canada? Want to build a career like Richard Shipway’s?

Read more about how Outpost Recruitment helps job seekers.

Other articles in this series: