With Vassallo Group’s rapid growth these last three to four years, Vassallo Builders, the oldest and possibly the busiest arm of the Group, was yet again instrumental for its overall success, Jonathan Buttigieg believes. Among the key projects completed this year, are the Vassallo Business Park in Burmarrad, the Malta International Airport Service Station, which was “architecturally, quite a challenge to build”, and a smaller yet very satisfying high-spec lecture hall for the International Maritime Law Institute.

Other ongoing projects are the Mediterranean College of Sport and Dar San Gużepp in Gozo, among others. The scaffolding division led by George Azzopardi, has also achieved remarkable success this year, demonstrating substantial growth and “surpassing all set targets”. The establishment of the Group’s inaugural home in Gozo marks a significant change in the operations of Vassallo Builders, showcasing their adeptness in handling new logistical hurdles, such as daily commuting via ferry to the construction site.

They have addressed these challenges by recruiting workers either residing in Gozo or open to relocation, enabling their participation in the project management team. Additionally, Vassallo Builders has proactively sought to source materials directly from Gozitan companies, showcasing their commitment to local collaboration and resource utilisation. In 2024, Vassallo Builders will be entering the second part of its five-year strategy and will see the implementation of some of the changes for which foundations, pun intended, were laid this year. “Next year we will be undergoing some changes in the way we operate with more effort dedicated to four key growth areas, namely developments for first-time buyers, decarbonisation, scaffolding and prefabricated buildings,” explains Jonathan.

This will be over and above existing works within the Group and with thirdparty clients, including the construction of a block of apartments in Sliema, a factory in Ta’ Qali and transforming a derelict building on the Bugibba seafront into a multiuse facility. Vassallo Builders will be seeking partners to develop properties with the aim of selling them to first-time buyers under an attractive financing scheme. Without revealing too many details, Jonathan said Vassallo Builders has been working on “a model with a buyer’s friendly formula, to keep the price affordable without compromising quality”. Construction projects not only dominate Malta’s skyline but also the news headlines and Jonathan is very vocal about how the sector should be regulated to ensure more professionalism all around. “The Jean Paul Sofia accident is a tragedy not just for the family, but for the industry as a whole. What we’re hearing is very sad and embarrassing for the industry”.

While welcoming the recent introduction of licensing in an industry that has been neglected for years, Jonathan stressed this was only “a start but not enough is being done”. He concedes it is difficult to convince the public not to paint all operators in the industry with the same brush. “Clients know Vassallo Builders and a few others like us are professionals. Our clients do not put us in the same box as the rest of the industry and I am very proud that people know we go the extra mile to protect our workers and third parties. However, the public in general is unfortunately driven by what they see and read in the media, and although it bothers me, I do understand their pain and the need to blame, especially when tragedy strikes; I share that same pain too. But generalising is not only unfair to the professional builder, it is also inaccurate and a result of a lack of information.”

The industry has such a bad rap that it is even affecting recruitment. “We are already finding it very hard to employ competent well-trained people, both locally and from abroad. There are dwindling numbers of Maltese who study construction and for an industry lacking so much skill, this is counterproductive. How do you make this industry attractive to work in? We are trying very hard to portray a professional image to attract people to work in the industry but they refuse because of its bad reputation. And then you get criticised for not employing skilled workers. It’s a vicious circle.

“This is a big challenge. And as I’ve been doing so far, I will continue to support any measures the Building and Construction Authority take to improve the construction industry, prioritising professionalism and safety for workers, third parties and the public in general. It is not easy for the authorities having to go from an industry with zero regulations to suddenly regulating over 30,000 workers. But this isn’t about what’s easy but about doing what needs to be done.”