“Collaborate, it’s Nothing But Positive For the Industry.”

This article was written by FTMA’s Kat Welsh

Billy Bowley is the Timber Systems Design Manager for K&B Timber & Hardware Mitre 10 – South Australia’s largest frame and truss manufacturer, based in Torrensville.  He’s also one of the most recent FTMA Board members, joining in November 2023. For a man that has established himself strongly in the frame and truss industry, works hard, and is devoted about what he does, it was interesting to find out that the first steps Billy took on the framing pathway were unplanned.

Billy, you see, grew up in South Australia’s Whyalla, also nicknamed the ‘Steel City’ – making up the ‘Iron Triangle’ along with Port Pirie and Port Augusta. It’s an area heavily known for iron ore, steel works, and ship building – with a population dependant on the industry, falling and rising over the decades.

Growing up, Billy had no idea about the frame and truss industry. He unintentionally stumbled into it. “I had absolutely no background in it whatsoever,” Billy said. “My dad was a Boilermaker, so completely the opposite. Then I relocated, looked for a job in Keith, where I relocated to and that’s what was available. I sort of fell into what I do now. I discovered I really enjoy it, have a bit of a passion for it, and I’ve continued in it from there.”

Billy worked for Keith Timber from 2005, until 2010. “I was essentially straight out of high school, working for Keith Timber. I started in the factory. I was pulling timber, making trusses, wall frames. I got given the opportunity to move into the office and try detailing, as they called it back then. It’s now called timber systems designs.”

Designing is fascinating, the people in that niche find it incredibly captivating. It’s a combination of creativity and mathematical science that captivates a combination of ingenuity and vision from those that enter into field.    

By 2010, being a young man, Billy decided to trade in the office, for a carpentry apprenticeship out onsite. After 3 years though he moved to Adelaide, deciding that the detailing life was where his calling was after all – he came back into designing in 2013, snapped up again by Keith Timber.

“I realised that working out onsite wasn’t that great after all,” Billy joked. “It was cold and wet.”

While the business was still Keith Timber, Billy took on an incredible role – setting up and training the design team at a new site in Manila, Philippines. Billy led the team there from 2017 until 2021. “It was a bit of an adjustment having never really travelled outside of Australia, but the people and the culture are very welcoming. I really enjoyed working with the team there. The office culture is very different from here in Australia. Workmates almost become like a second family. It is a great environment to work in but of course as with any workplace it’s not without its challenges.” Although based back in Australia now, Billy still oversees the Manila team.

This also meant that Billy was in Manila when the COVID pandemic kicked off. Metro Manila was the worst COVID impacted area in the Philippines, and the first lockdown commenced on March 15th 2020, to try and combat the spread of the virus. As the confirmed cases kept rising in numbers, the lockdowns (initially a temporary measure) kept getting extended. Billy rode out the strict lockdowns in Manila, spending more than 12 months in his unit. Being separated overseas from family and loved ones would’ve been an extreme trial for any of us. “It was challenging at times being so isolated but being able to continue work and focussing on continuing to develop the team remotely, helped pass the time. I tried to stay as active as possible in the confines of a studio apartment and try to find hobbies to take up, plus a lot of reading and lots of Netflix. I guess much the same as everyone else that experienced lock downs,” Billy said. Definitely those of us who underwent metro lockdowns in Victoria can strongly relate.

Joining the FTMA board last year, seems like a great venture for Billy – supporting the association to lead the way for the industry, and for small business.

“It’s absolutely crucial to be able to share ideas, with others in the industry, and to obviously try to make improvements wherever possible. And collaborate, it’s nothing but positive for the industry.  Improve processes, improve legislations… there’s still a lot of gaps in the industry, this sort of association is important to help close those.”

It’s obvious that the future of this sector is something that Billy is keen to keep moving forward. “The initiatives that they’ve brought in (FTMA), like the FATSO, those sorts of things, they add so much value to the industry. The support they provide, particularly I guess to smaller manufacturers, in terms of the HR portal, the safety stuff they’re doing, it’s absolutely valuable.” Having people like Billy on the board, who understand the industry and what it needs, is prized, to help keep steering the association forward.

Billy attended the FTMA National Conference last month. “The information that you get from the speakers, the likes of Tim Woods, and Alistair (Woodard), it’s really interesting to see what’s happening within the industry, what’s happening behind the scenes, you don’t always see. And obviously the ability to speak and interact with others in the industry, particularly from other states. It’s interesting to see the sort of things other manufacturers are having to deal with, and surprising the similarities at times.” Having those opportunities to get out of the silo and interact with other fabricators helps drive innovation. Billy is now part of behind-the-scenes FTMA, to assist in governing that growth and development for members. Something, that as a representative from South Australia, Billy is committed to.

South Australia is a bit behind the sector with its progressive changes, compared to the east coast. “In terms of the building methodology, and those sorts of things, there’s still a lot of conventional framing in South Australia. There’s not a whole lot of prefabricated wall frames, it’s mainly stick framing… we’re starting to make steps forward in those areas. Probably hands were forced a little bit with shortages through the COVID period. We’re starting to make those strides forward, but we are certainly a little bit behind the eight ball,” said Billy, who in his role with K&B Mitre 10, is helping to evolve the way forward.

Billy loves his role. He loves training new staff, and helping others develop their love for what they do. Some of which comes from within and can’t always be taught. “In this industry, if you don’t have a real passion for it, then you’re going to struggle… how you promote that passion, how you develop that passion is the million-dollar question,” Billy said. What was apparent talking to Billy though, was that he’s part of the answer. Attracting and retaining passionate staff gets solved by having role models in key positions who promote that desire and mentality for the future, the culture, and the work – Billy is one of those people.  He’s an integral part of the business, and the sector.

Billy is dedicated when it comes to training staff, both onsite and offshore staff members – supporting the next designers coming in. “I really enjoy that aspect of it. I can see myself continuing to do that. Possibly even if the opportunity arises, doing that on a broader scale.”

It seems common for people to either be born into the timber industry, with sawdust in their veins, or to fall into it almost by accident. Both of which provides a pool of those who are ardent about what the industry does, the future of construction, and providing the benefits of climate solutions. A proud Carbon Warrior, Billy talked about the environmental facet of FTMA. “I think it’s a fantastic initiative. I really think it’s important to continue to spread that message.”

Outside of the industry, and behind his career, Billy’s focus lies in footie. “You work through the week and try and find your release on the weekend. The main passion outside of work is football. I don’t play it anymore, the body doesn’t hold up as well as it used to. But I enjoy watching it and getting out with friends.” And of course, Billy is a devout Crows supporter. “Yes absolutely,” Billy said instantly, when asked about who he barracks for. “Absolutely the Crows. Bit of a tragic to be honest.”

Billy, it’s been great to find out more about you and the career you have forged out in the timber industry. We appreciate you agreeing to do this article, and realise that getting a big spotlight shone on you was probably a bit daunting. Learning about how dedicated and talented you are, not just for your role but for the sector, is inspirational and encouraging for everyone that reads this article. Thank you for your time – and go The Crows!!

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