How I Got Here: Frances Bay Marina facility manager Clay Fredericks

by Sophie Berrill
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Clay Fredericks, Frances Bay marina facility manager

“Everyone from the general public right through to politicians can point fingers and ask you direct questions, so it becomes quite a role of responsibility.”

Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here‘ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken, and demystify this often-misunderstood yet essential profession.

This week, we speak to Clay Fredericks, who works for the Northern Territory (NT) Government as manager of the Frances Bay Marina facility in Darwin. Fredericks’ job involves a little more time outdoors than most facilities managers. But the perks come with great responsibilities to prepare for extreme weather – and also a fair bit of government red tape. 

Facility Management: What did you do before you became a facilities manager?

Clay Fredericks: I did a raft of things. My early career was spent with the Royal Australian Air Force as a motor mechanic for 12 years. I had an opportunity while I was a mechanic to do some purchasing with procurements and stuff like that. That moved me into business management and more of an administrative field, managing things like contractors, including contractors that did work on facilities, so I guess that’s what led me into facilities management. 

I had the opportunity to manage a defence base in Darwin called Defence Establishment Berrimah, and that was quite a large asset. I looked after all the buildings and assets and facilities, and there were some pretty niche things involved there. There was the Department of Immigration, which had a detention centre, but then also the defence base and all the facilities that are involved in that – from administrative buildings right through to fields, ovals and power plants.

It just progressed to where I am now. Prior to this, I was working in defence and veterans engagement. Managing the Frances Bay Marina facility was just an opportunity that came up and, since I had some experience with managing contractors and some assets and facilities, I won the position. This is my second role that is purely in facilities management

FM: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Frances Bay Marina facility?

CF: I guess you can’t really call it a building. There are two wharves that we do bunkering services or refuelling services from, as well as some logistics services for our commercial fishing fleet located in Darwin. We have a large marina that houses up to 120 commercial fishing vessels. 

In those, we have small wharves that we call fingers, as well as the facilities around that: the roads, toilet blocks, showering facilities, storage areas for the fishing fleet, and also things like tie-up points for the vessels. 

We have a locked facility that allows vessels to get in and out of that marina, which we have a responsibility to manage and maintain. We’re actually doing an upgrade to the locked doors, which is a $20 million project, so it’s quite a hub of activity around here at the moment.

FM: Do you spend a lot of your work hours outdoors?

CF: Definitely. I think I spend probably 20 or 30 percent of my time in the office. The other time is moving around the facility. It’s probably spread over probably a square kilometre, which is quite large when you’re looking from a satellite shot. 

We also have a floating pontoon facility that our recreational fishers and guys that take people out on fishing tours are allowed to use. They use our maintenance facilities, and we look after all that to make sure that they’re up to standard and up to the user’s expectation.

FM: What are your responsibilities as the Frances Bay Marina facility manager?

CF: I look after maintenance of the facility itself. I work for the NT Government, so the commercial fleet rents the spaces and we also have a responsibility to collect their rent. We provide them with invoices, but we also provide them with the facilities for rubbish collection, toilet blocks, showers, a maintenance area and an unload area. We have a service wharf for them to unload their catch when they come in, it’s the same place where they can berth their vessels, so that’s part of the service I do. 

The other part concerns the maintenance along the main wharf and making sure that the bunkering and electrical services are there. There are fresh water pipelines that are maintained as well as the asset itself. 

Clay Fredericks, manager of the Frances Marina Bay facility, Darwin

Clay Fredericks at the Frances Bay Marina facility, Darwin.

FM: What is it like to work in facilities management for the government?

CF: I’m not sure what it would be like to work in a private facilities management position, but I can tell you that it’s quite challenging in the government structures. There’s a fair bit of policy that we have to make sure that we comply with. We’re held accountable to things like work health and safety. When you’re providing, for instance, a fishing industry facility, you have to be on point for that. You’ve got to keep the government clean I guess.

FM: Is there a lot of red tape involved in your job?

CF: There is quite a bit. 

When I was in the Australian Government, we very much had a policy and a procedure to follow before things could get done. It’s not a case of: ‘Oh, this is broken, I could just go get someone to come and fix it.’ We have to jump through the hoops to be able to put in the paperwork to get it looked at, quoted. Depending on the cost of what the quote is, we might have to go into a tender process. 

It’s very similar in the NT Government, we have procurement tiers that we have to adhere to. Sometimes there are some gaps that we can take advantage of, but most of the time it’s quite a strict regime that you need to follow. It’s taxpayers dollars and we need to say, with hand on heart, that we’re spending that in accordance with what we should be doing.

Our assets have to be maintained and things upgraded so that our facilities are ready to go should anything up to a Category Five cyclone hit.

FM: Does this delay something simple being fixed for a long time?

CF: Yeah, sometimes it can. For instance, a tier-one procurement is anything up to $15,000. For me to replace the stairs along Fisherman’s Wharf, that’s $10,000 each. So if I wanted to replace the eight stairs that I have along there, that’s an $80,000 to $100,000 process. 

That’s a tier-two procurement, so I’d have to wait six weeks for the procurement process to be completed before I can engage into contract negotiations with the winning tender, before they can then give us an activity statement on what they’re going to do, and then hear how long it’s going to take them to do that. 

Something as simple as ripping a set of stairs out and sending them down to the paint shop, which would normally only take a week or two, could end up being a two- or three-month process.

FM: Does that mean you’ve got quite a lot of other stakeholders clicking their tongue and waiting on you? Do their complaints come through you?

CF: Yeah, they do. We try to stay on top of it. Part of the challenge of being a facilities manager here is programming your maintenance. For instance – back to the stairs example – we try to change them by mounting two at a time. We’ve been proactive in having spare sets of those marine plastic stairs ready to go so that if we take one lot out, we’re replacing them straight away. 

That’s just being proactive. In the spraying and the cleaning, we look at when they’re supposed to be done and try to match them up with tide times because obviously low tide is the best time to clean. 

Making sure your business plans are aligned and your stakeholders are aware takes a lot of coordination. Then when you throw on top of that the levels of procurement that potentially might have to take place, you need to make sure you’re on top of your game.

FM: You’ve worked in some project management roles previously. Would you say that there are a lot of similarities between project management and facilities management?

CF: Yeah, I think if you had a project management background, you would find facilities management a bit easier to do. 

Project management sets out a very staged and stepped process that you can follow with any type of facility that you need to manage. Every facility has ongoing maintenance or preventative maintenance that needs to be done, so if you can step those and project manage those individually, then I think that definitely goes a long way.

“Part of the challenge of being a facilities manager here is programming your maintenance.”

FM: Darwin obviously has quite a tropical climate, with a dry season and a wet season. How does extreme weather, or even just normal Darwin weather, affect your job?

CF: Between November and April we have a cyclone season, so that involves a good level of cleaning up stuff that’s been happening in the six months beforehand. Our assets have to be maintained and things upgraded so that our facilities are ready to go should anything up to a Category Five cyclone hit.

We also need to coordinate a facilities management plan for cyclones with other areas. For us, that’s the Darwin Port, police, fire and emergency services, the NT government, stakeholders, (including all of the NT Seafood Council and Northern Seafood Council). We ensure that they’re across those plans and that, should a cyclone potentially threaten the coast, we’re prepared for it. It’s all about being prepared and I think that goes hand in hand with facilities management anyway.

As far as the weather, from September to about early December we have a build-up season where it will get up to 98 percent humidity without rain. It’s very hot all day and very, very humid. The guys that I have working for me in the lock area will come in after a day’s work and shower at our facilities here. Within 10 minutes they’re sweating again. So it’s unfortunately part of what the Territory is and it’s part of the conditions that we’re used to. We’ve always said that if you’re new to the Territory and you survive your first build-up, then you’re probably going to be here to stay.

FM: Does emergency management fall squarely on the facilities management team?

CF: Absolutely.

FM: That’s a big responsibility. And security must be another big responsibility when you work for the government.

CF: Yeah, without doubt. And those types of jobs have pros and cons, especially when you’re working at a government base, like I was before. 

Some of the pros are: it’s a large facility and you usually have a good budget to make sure that it’s maintained. 

The cons to that are that there are policies and rules that you have to put into place, and sometimes people don’t like that. And the thing is you’re accessible to people 24/7 when you are in that position. Everyone from the general public right through to politicians can point fingers and ask you direct questions, so it becomes quite a role of responsibility. Totally different to my current role, which is great. Now, I answer to an executive director and that’s pretty much it.

FM: What is your favourite part of your job?

CF: Well, the sunrise probably. I come into that every morning. The sunset is a given on my Monday to Friday. I get called for stuff that happens on weekends, that goes with the job level at the end of the day. But you come in the morning, the sun’s coming up and there are boats sitting out in the harbour.

Some of the people that you meet are also fantastic. Some of them are difficult, but at the end of the day I think that every experience that you have, regardless of what job that you’re in, you need to take things away and learn from them. Patience is something that I’ve really learned over the years, because you may be having a good day and the other person may not be. 

Meeting different people is what I enjoy about it all. I’ve told my staff I don’t want to see them here longer than two or three years unless they really want to stay. For me, it’s all about developing that staff to move on to better paid positions, to gain more qualifications. Those are the things that I really enjoy doing, being able to see the development of people, meeting people and just seeing smiles on people’s faces when you’ve done things and they go, “Oh, this is great. The facility is awesome.”

For more stories about the humans of FM, grab your free copy of the ‘People Issue’ of the Facility Management digital magazine, released this week!

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