Anyone on the roads of Western Australia will be familiar with the Catalano’s brand name, a fleet of yellow trucks with B&J Catalano in cursive script along the side of each trailer, plying their trade around the state.
At the moment, Catalano’s is managing a big job in its own backyard with construction of an outer ring road for Bunbury. This is a project involving over nine million tonnes of materials to be sourced and delivered on site, plus a similar amount of sand.
“That’s been keeping us pretty busy for the last couple of years,” says Clem. “We have to have a lot of capital equipment and we are sort of a one-stop shop. Where, we can do anything, and we are sort of a diversified company. We do everything, so, when one division is quiet, the other one’s busy.
“We’ve been doing work for Austral Bricks for the last 20 years. It’s just come to an end.
“We’ve got a terrific crew of people. All the managers that we’ve got in place and all the general managers have been here for a long time, like Jack who runs the workshop, he has been here as long as I have, for 47 years.”
One of the larger projects which boosted the growth of the company would have been when Worsley Alumina started operations in South West WA with its integrated bauxite mining and alumina refining operation. This stimulated fast growth for Catalano’s as a company. Other projects started in the area and the Catalano’s operation have grown with them.
“We’ve got enough permanent work and to keep ourselves going in what we do,” says Clem. “And with the clientele, we don’t need to go out and start buying work. We’ve got one client, that we do a lot of port work for. There is a facility with which we load the woodchip, in Bunbury. I think we’ve been with them 47 or 48 years. We have a lot of long-term work.
“We won’t take a job, if we’re going to hurt the brand. We’ll walk away from it. It’s not about doing everything. At the moment, there’s that much work out there that you can conquer the world if you want to. But, how are you going to do it? You don’t want to overstretch yourself. The way the labour market is at the moment, getting good people, it’s hard.
“You’ve got to offer people a lifestyle, and everyone’s different. People move so quick, there’s the ones that have been here a long time and don’t move, but you need to get to another certain percentage of people who come in and then go.”
Clem reckons the business actually works like a training ground for young people who end up working in the mining industry. They come into the business and get trained as equipment operators but are then drawn by the attraction of FIFO work on mine sites.
He says that the operation can find young fitters or apprentices but is really struggling to find young people who want to drive a truck.
“The big thing with the transport industry these days and getting the young kids into it, is the fact that years ago, you could bring your children in on weekends or the school holidays and they could sit with their fathers,” says Clem. “They could experience a truck or a machine or help you work in the workshop. You could do that in those days. Now with the laws and the insurance and all the rest of it. You can’t do that.
“Especially with a truck driver, if you don’t get that person at a young age. After school they are told to get up and get work, to go find a job. If you haven’t had it, pushed in front of you, to drive a truck or get in the transport industry at a young age, you’ve missed them. They’ve gone into another trade and bang.
“The lifestyle of the long-distance truckies is sort of going and it’s a shame, but I don’t know where the industry is going to end up.”