Current Issue #488

The young refugee building a future through local construction projects

27-year-old George Flomo is delighted that his childhood dream of working in a bank never came true. His true passion—working with his hands in the building industry—has since been realised on construction sites throughout Adelaide, thanks to Renewal SA’s Works Program and the support of local industry.

As a young refugee from the war-torn Ivory Coast, George did not speak English when he first arrived in Australia more than a decade ago. He had also never had the opportunity to go to school.

Finding himself in new and strange territory, but motivated to find a meaningful vocation, George worked hard at learning English at the Adelaide Secondary School of English and later Thebarton Senior College, while doing night shifts at a bakery. He was soon ready to take charge of his destiny in his adopted country.

Fortuitously, George was introduced to Renewal SA’s Works Program when social enterprise employer yourtown received a small works contract to paint the exterior of Renewal SA’s Bowden office on Gibson Street.

This opportunity provided George with paid employment and a chance to learn new technical skills.

“I had never painted before, so this was a real learning experience for me,” says George.

“I came to understand the techniques involved and how you could transform a space through colour, while also learning to assemble housing frames, install windows and doors and use power tools properly.”

Following this, the Works Program put George’s name forward for a week of work experience with Jordan Plumbing, subcontractors of Buildtec Group, the developer responsible for Bowden’s 354 apartments and terraces.

Here he was able to gain hands-on experience cutting, labelling and sealing pipes, as well as assisting with the fitting of pipe insulation and digging necessary trenches.

Now all of these experiences have led George to his current—and most rewarding—endeavour to date: working with Melisi Projects on the construction of apartments and townhouses at both Tonsley and Lightsview, an opportunity that has allowed George to truly come into his own.

“Renewal SA first approached me nine months ago about bringing on this young, hard-working man who had already shown great potential as a labourer and who would clearly benefit from some hands-on civil construction experience on a large building site,” says Joe Melisi, founder and director of Melisi Projects.

“George initially started with us on a one-week trial, but because of his strong work ethic and keenness to take on greater responsibility, he quickly transitioned to paid employment and is now a much-valued member of the team and a genuine asset to our business.”

George Flomo & Joe Melisi

George is currently responsible for undertaking inspection reports, cleaning out scaffolding and helping to uphold site maintenance and safety. Importantly he is gaining valuable experience in the operation of essential machinery—including the telehandling machine (boom lift) and scissor lift—with a view to obtaining the necessary licences to operate these pieces of equipment independently.

“My goal is to get both my telehandler ticket (Gold Card) and my scissor lift ticket (Yellow Card) so I can take on a greater number of machine-operated jobs on site and become a lot more versatile,” says George.

The staff at Melisi are fully supportive of this and create opportunities for George to acquire much-needed practice on the machinery in a supervised setting, often after-hours.

“The people at Melisi have been incredible – they have made me feel so welcome,” George says.

“In my first week I was so nervous, but my supervisor was really easy to communicate with and after that I just wanted to come back day after day.

“The best part of working for Melisi is having a sense of purpose and responsibility.

“When I was living in my country I never dreamed I would have the chance to work on a major construction project or be able to apply my skills and feel valued – it really doesn’t get any better.”

According to Brett Fox, Melisi’s Construction Supervisor at Tonsley, George is a trusted colleague and someone who is prepared to throw himself into any task and get things done.

“George is always punctual and on site by 7:20am, despite having to catch a bus and a train from Findon to Tonsley, and cares about the quality of his work,” says Brett.

“He has also shown impressive leadership potential and recently helped mentor a new worker who had no civil construction experience, even though he was still quite new himself.”

Joe Melisi concurs and believes that George embodies all the traits he is looking for in future work experience participants and apprentices.

“George has a great attitude, loves what he does and has the ability to work well with our diverse workforce, which is inclusive of all sorts of personalities, ages and cultural backgrounds,” says Joe.

“The Renewal SA Works Program has made everything so easy for everyone involved, funding George’s insurance and ultimately gifting us a team member of high calibre.

“In my industry, which offers enormous scope and opportunity for new blood, it’s important to give back and help the next generation of men and women in construction find a foothold,” says Joe.

For George, the future looks bright. He would one day like to attain his Master Builders licence and start building houses himself, using all the construction experience he has gathered through his various roles to date.

“I am really grateful for the chances that I’ve had through the Works Program and just love working outdoors and being able to use my initiative,” says George.

“I’m especially glad that I never ended up in a bank.”

And so is Joe Melisi, who is now committed to working further with the Works Program to help others like George find their future in construction.

About Renewal SA’s Works Program

The Works Program provides opportunities for work experience and employment through economic development commitment clauses written into Renewal SA contracts. These opportunities ensure Renewal SA’s redevelopment works support social inclusion, our state’s economic growth, and generate opportunities for South Australians like George.

Anyone who feels inspired by George’s journey and is keen to start a new career in civil construction themselves can register their interest with Renewal SA’s Works Program now.

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