Established in 1996, MKN Property Group is a second-generation Irish construction company leading in development, investment and construction. As a multidisciplinary property company, its specialist teams work in construction, acquisitions, property development, property management, lettings and interior design. Construction Director Brian McKeon started the business with his father Sean and brother John. He talks to AIDAN PRIESTLEY about the latest in homebuilding technologies and finding solutions to the sector’s biggest challenges
How did you become involved in construction?
I’ve always been interested from a very young age, my father is a carpenter so I was always around on-site. I had completed my apprenticeship before leaving school as I was on the site so often.
What sets MKN Property Group apart from others in the industry?
We’ve always had the reputation that my dad had built. Even from before we founded this company together, his reputation was for a quality highend finish, in good locations. We have maintained that reputation to this day including in our current projects, for example, on the East Wall mixed use scheme. We’re building a hotel, retail unit, office suites and apartments due for practical completion in 2024.
How is MKN Property Group meeting the challenges currently facing homebuilders?
The single biggest challenge facing the sector is the labour skills shortage. That’s across the entire industry, with everyone I am working with facing the same. It requires an industry-wide response to tackle it. We also need to see government action.
After the pandemic we saw that many workers returned to their home countries and aren’t returning as the cost of living here is too high. We need to look further afield to the skilled workers across the world who can bring value to the industry.
Even at home, anecdotally, we know there are refugees, and others living in Ireland who want to work and contribute and they’re being held back with no work permission from the Government.
How do you keep up with the latest building techniques and technologies?
We’ve been known for adopting innovating new ways to deliver projects from the outset. We took up techniques over two decades ago, since 1999, of what is now being called modular construction.
The new Modern Methods of Construction is something we have been doing in many ways before this concentrated effort to introduce it to the industry. Since 2013 we have partnered with Glen Dimplex to deliver modular heating systems for housing and now apartments too, speeding up construction.
We always try to keep up with whatever is out there. Looking forward, I see fully-finished walls being manufactured from off-site. Every decision to adopt new technologies is all about making it more efficient and ultimately making life easier. Off-site does that, and most importantly it delivers a better end-product for our clients and customers.
What changes would you like to see in order for more houses to be built?
Planning reform is the single most effective change that could benefit the industry. It would provide certainty for future projects and we could better manage our workflow process and pipeline of work to continue to guarantee work.
Regulations are becoming more stringent, which is costing more to build and that ends up costing customers more at the end of the day, driving prices up.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the construction sector?
I love to see the progress of the sites that we develop. Over days, weeks and months seeing an empty site turn into a home, or new project being delivered. Then there are all the people I’ve been working with all this time. I enjoy the every day interactions I have with the teams we work with.
Do you have any tips for people looking to get into construction?
You have to really want it. It’s not for someone who doesn’t want to be there. There are real challenges, it’s a tough industry at times. You have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy at times in order to deliver your projects. Having a real love for the work you’re doing can make the difference for some of the less exciting parts of the job.
I think you should give it a try – an honest go of it. Try maybe to sample what it’s like to work over the summer or in breaks. Try a few different skills to see what suits you.
You don’t want to go through four years of college only to find out on your first time on a site that it doesn’t work for you. It’s an incredibly rewarding career. The relationships you build with the people you work with are some of the best I’ve ever known. Just make sure it’s for you.
What does the future of construction and homebuilding look like?
I think we’ll see off-site construction really come into its own in many ways going forward. The landscape is changing to become more and more specialist, in particular when we talk about apartment building. You see the number of regulations and processes introduced are a whole different game than in the past.
This makes it a much more specialist type of market. This is why I think we’ll see manufacturing really make a difference because when it’s made in the factory it’s built to a standard that’s 100 per cent.
Early riser or hit the snooze button?
Coffee or tea?
Tea, just milk no sugar. I’m sweet enough apparently.
Pub or Club?
Pub at this stage in my life.
Vacation or staycation?
Vacation, the only way not to be pulled back to the office.
Home cooked meal or takeaway?
Home cooked meal
Rugby or GAA?
Broadsheet or digital newspaper?
I have digital for the day-to-day but I prefer the broadsheet and so I get them for my weekend.