From Helping Hand to Leading Hand: Connor Simmonds’ Journey to Leadership with Maxispan
Eager to kickstart his career in construction, Connor Simmonds just needed to be given a chance. After a rocky start, he was handed that opportunity by Maxispan. What followed is a testament to the magic that happens when an employer gives someone with the right attitude a go. Hard-working and high-achieving, Connor is now the most senior leader of his crew. We’re proud to share his inspiring story.
Determined to try
Getting back up after being knocked down is a skill most people don’t learn until well into adulthood. But for Connor Simmonds, it’s just part of who he is.
Like many high school students, Connor wasn’t entirely sure what path to take in life. Yet, he’d always been fascinated with the art of building: to start with a few tools and materials and create something worthwhile. So, he studied metal work in Years 11 and 12, while also gaining important work and life skills as an all-rounder at his local supermarket.
Connor worked hard stocking shelves and bagging groceries, but it wasn’t exactly what this humble and energetic self-starter wanted to do long term. Connor wanted a career.
After graduating high school, Connor began his job search in earnest. His mum, Virginia, was acquainted with Craig Fleming, Managing Director at Maxispan. She learnt that the South Australian manufacturer was looking for steel frame assemblers, so she encouraged Connor to apply. Naturally, he couldn’t wait to throw his hat in the ring.
“It was something I’d never done before, and I really wanted to give it a go. I had an interview and was shown how the production floor worked, but I was knocked back for the role. I was pretty shattered but I didn’t let it get me down for too long.”
A door opens
Just two months later, Connor applied for another role at Maxispan: a traineeship through HIA (the Housing Industry Association), with Maxispan as the host employer. It was a new initiative for the company, and this time, Connor was encouraged to apply by Craig himself. And he was successful.
“I saw it as a chance not just to get a job, but to achieve a qualification and begin my career. I was more excited about the traineeship than I’d been for the initial role I’d applied for.”
And so, in May 2016, Connor started his traineeship to gain his Certificate III in Wall, Floor and Truss Manufacturing. It was the beginning of an incredibly rewarding career for this shy yet eager-to-learn trainee, and it was all thanks to his perseverance and being given a second chance by Maxispan.
“I knew Connor was a bit downcast after missing out on that first role, and I could tell how enthusiastic he was. Maxispan has always been eager to engage with people keen for employment and wanting to have a crack. So, being able to offer Connor the traineeship was a fantastic way to give him something to work towards. We’re not just about offering jobs putting frames together - we’re about helping people create their future.”
Building blocks of a career
In the first year of his three-year traineeship, Connor learnt all aspects of steel frame manufacture and assembly - from sweeping floors and packing frames to the safe operation of plant and equipment. He also gained his forklift licence and, in his second year, moved into Maxispan’s installation team, erecting frames on site for single-storey, two-storey and three-storey constructions.
“That sense of accomplishment you get after finishing something you’ve built yourself is pretty rewarding. Maxispan gave me a comfortable work environment for those first two years. They were very supportive. They always let you know when you’re doing a good job, and rewarded and incentivised working hard and getting the job done.”
During this time, Connor was supervised and mentored by James Farrer, Maxispan’s Operations Manager. James was struck by Connor’s remarkable drive and positive energy.
“Connor was a young guy who wanted to have a go and make something of himself. He was punctual, reliable and hard working. You always want to help the ones who demonstrate the right attitude to move forward.”
To gain more experience with a different crew and complete his traineeship, James organised Connor to transfer to a new host - Steel Frame Erectors, one of Maxispan’s regular installation contractors. James saw it as a powerful opportunity for the hardworking apprentice to learn and grow.
“Maxispan looked after me and made sure I was going to another good host. It was a bit daunting going to a new team, but I knew the business had a good reputation, and I’m really glad I made that move.”
During the third and final year of Connor’s traineeship, Peter Wegner, owner and Director of Steel Frame Erectors, ensured 80% of his work was for Maxispan. This meant Connor’s strong connection with the Maxispan team remained. And under Peter’s guidance, Connor flourished.
“When Connor first joined us, he was a little green, but he’s proved to be a very conscientious, trustworthy and reliable worker. He’s taken all information on board and retained it, and if I could have two more on board like him, I’d be set!”
With Peter as his mentor, Connor completed his traineeship, achieved his certificate, and was nominated for the HIA Trainee of the Year Award. In fact, Connor had been nominated for this award once before, when he was working at Maxispan. That year, the award was won by a trainee at none other than Steel Frame Erectors! But this time around, it was Connor’s turn for the win.
“I was thrilled just to be nominated, but to win the award was amazing. One thing I’ve learnt is that I always find myself soldiering on and getting through. Obviously, it’s disappointing when you work hard and get knocked back for something, but so long as you pick yourself up and keep trying, you’ll get there.”
An investment in the future
Connor’s career has skyrocketed. Driven and dependable, he’s risen through the ranks at Steel Frame Erectors to become the Leading Hand of a 10-strong crew.
“I like the challenges involved. I get to think for myself, work out any problems, and talk the team through them. Peter, James and Craig have been great role models. Seeing how successful they are and how they handle themselves is really motivational. It’s helped me with my own leadership. I remember what it was like being taught, so I try to be patient and take extra time with people to really explain why we do things the way we do.”
Seizing every opportunity to learn and grow, Connor has also achieved his Contractors Licence - a savvy investment in his future.
“It means I can be a bit more independent and resource my own work. Should a day come when Pete retires or I decide to move on, I can go off on my own, be my own boss, and not have to worry about employment.”
Peter says he cannot emphasise enough what a valuable asset Connor is to Steel Frame Erectors, and although he doesn’t ever want to see Connor leave, he’ll support him whatever he decides to do in the future.
“I’ve told Connor that if and when he’s ready to go out on his own, he can run his own crew and subcontract from me, so I can still give him that guidance and knowledge. He’s a real team player. If I didn’t have Connor, I wouldn’t have the amount of employees and apprentices I have now. He brings so much value to the business, and it’s great to see how far he’s come.”
Craig feels just as proud of Connor’s achievements. In fact, when he reflects on Connor’s journey, he gets goosebumps. For this compassionate senior leader, it’s a testament to the power of partnerships and how a young person’s life can change so much for the better when they’re given a go.
“I’m so proud of all Connor has achieved. He’s certainly a resilient and perseverant young man. I look forward to seeing where his hard work takes him next.”
It’s a feeling echoed by James, who is humbled by how far his former trainee has come.
“When Connor joined us at Maxispan, we had three other trainees start at the same time. Connor is the only one who stayed, finished his steel framing traineeship and got his Contractors Licence. It’s a very positive outcome. I wish Connor all the best for his future endeavours, and he always has my number if he needs me for mentoring or support.”
For now, Connor plans to keep learning, working hard, and one day run his own crew.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunities given to me, and I hope to one day give someone else a similar opportunity and help them reach their potential. I never thought I’d be a Leading Hand. Not because I wasn’t capable, but because I needed to get my foot in the door. That’s why it’s so important to keep on trying. I strive to work hard and be the best in everything I do. If you’re knocked back once, twice, however many times, keep working hard, and you can turn your life into whatever you want it to be.”
About the Author
When Lauren Forcey isn’t writing compelling content that amplifies an organisation’s employer brand, you’ll either find her running stupidly long distances or eating snacks. Actually, she’s usually doing both, at once. She’s also a mum, wife, journalist and former small business owner ... and still wrestles with the fame that came with winning the healthy cake baking competition at the Royal Darwin Show one year. As Senior Storyteller at EBA, Lauren uses the power of storytelling to give an authentic insight into the people, values and culture of an organisation, touching hearts and inspiring people to act!
About our People Stories Series
Storytelling is fundamental to Employer Branding Australia’s work and philosophy. That’s why we created our very own People Stories Series. We’re proud to bring you stories about the incredible things that happen when good, talented humans truly connect with their chosen employer. Follow Employer Branding Australia on LinkedIn to see the stories live in your feed.
About Employer Branding Australia
We exist to help you attract the best talent and keep them engaged. Together, we’ll create and promote your 'Why work for us?' and turn your authentic people stories into your most powerful marketing tool.