News and Media

Oaks Civil Construction a decade of experience in Aboriginal employment services

1 September 2023


Founder & Managing Director of Oaks Civil Construction, Jarrad Oakley Nicholls has a decade of experience in Aboriginal employment services and business development working with Industry leaders across civil, construction, mining and Government to achieve important procurement targets which includes employing long term unemployed people. His business paints a picture of his success, but it’s not the full story.

Jarrad was born in Perth, with cultural ties to Malgana & Amangu (Yamatji), Wiradjuri (Koori), Southwest Boojarah & Whadjuk (Noongar) and Kija (East Kimberley) traditional owner groups. His heritage connects him to most of the state – and helps him to understand the meaning and importance of connection, especially as his family retraces connections back through to his Great Grandfathers Country in the East Kimberley, following the impact of colonisation.

“That [connection across the state] comes from the impacts of colonisation with different family members getting taken away and put into reserves and missions…My great-grandfather was removed and sent away from  Turkey Creek and taken to Perth and we are still learning that connection.”

Jarrad spent much of his early life in Perth, before being drafted to play AFL for Richmond when he was 17 – a world away from his upbringing in public housing in Mirrabooka.

“When I landed in Melbourne, Richmond picked me up and dropped me off at a place I thought was a hotel. I’d rolled out of Mirrabooka – and got dropped off in Toorak. It was a real culture shock. I asked the representative ‘Who lives here?’ and they said, oh that’s your host family, but I just couldn’t comprehend the size of the place. Back [home] we had a 3-bedroom home that at times had upwards of 10 people camping there. [It] was a total shock to me.”

Maybe in an early sign of his business prowess, Jarrad knew an opportunity when he saw one, thanks to the strong work ethic his mum taught him growing up.

“Mum was a single mother. Dad died when I was 5 years old so bringing 4 kids up was no doubt tough.  Mum worked hard to provide for us. And there’s no better feeling now than to be able to look back at that time and say ‘Mum, you’ve instilled all that value and work ethic in your kids. I am who I am today because I have the greatest leader to learn off.”

Jarrad has always felt a connection to his mother’s country and spent a lot of time in Geraldton during holidays as a child, before making the decision to start his business Oaks Civil Construction in Geraldton.

“I always felt, coming back to Geraldton really refreshed me. And when I knew that I was going into business, I knew that it was going to be set up here. It was just a matter of how and when. That was that calling to come home to reconnect with my mother’s country.

“As I was growing up, mum told me stories of Blood Alley and the old reserve here in Geraldton, and the impacts that had on my mother…the black car coming and she had to run into the sand dunes and hide away. I come back to Geraldton and when I see  the dunes and drive pass Blood Alley I just think of that stories and what it would have been like for our mob back then, and that connection.”

These stories, though rooted in pain and trauma, have given Jarrad the motivation to work and help heal his community.

“A lot of people of my generation are reconnecting and learning those stories. That’s intergenerational trauma and it impacts us on a day-to-day basis. I’ve used it as fuel to really create something special for this region – to really create change, not only from an industry point of view but a change in terms of how we employ our people. “Oaks Civil Construction is walking the talk when it comes to employing people. The company has gone from strength to strength since its beginnings in a pre-COVID world in January 2020 – from the original 22 staff in Geraldton, the company has grown to over 120 staff across the state and in 2023, the company was recognised by the Civil Construction Federation’s Industry and Training Awards, winning the Aboriginal Enterprise Award of the Year this year, Jarrad has also been awarded the Supply Nation Sam Tjengala Reuben Young Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year at the Supplier Diversity Award 2023.

For Jarrad, the awards are great recognition of something he already knows: that the challenges of increasing and supporting Aboriginal employment have solutions and that they come from the community. Oaks Civil Construction focuses on supporting their employees through the whole process of employment, from recruitment and training to staying in the workforce.

“Normally you’ll have someone doing the training, someone doing the employment. I know for a fact that if we continue that process we’ll get the same results [of people leaving their employment].”

The non-accredited training focuses on behaviors and attitudes, to help support staff through their accredited training at TAFE or the chosen RTO, through to their work once on the job. This training is key, says Jarrad, to making employment sustainable and having impact on the wider community.

“We have developed our own training program [because] we know that if [employees] train, if you get to know them and you have a structure in place that builds capacity and empowers the people, that’s going to have that domino effect back into the community. That individual comes in and takes that knowledge and work ethic back to their families. You’ve got to look at it through a business lens, but you’ve also got to look at it from a social impact point of view. I’m passionate about creating change for our mob. And that’s the great thing about having your own business. You can do things differently.”

This passion is palpable when Jarrad talks about his family. His motivation is clear – to honour the legacy of those who came before and create a legacy for those following his footsteps. A key relationship for him was with his older brother, who passed away in 2013.

“I’m the youngest in my family. I didn’t grow up with dad so my brother was my male role model. His death was a big turning point in my life. He started this legacy. His company, Oaks Tiling was only a little self-made business, but he did great work for community. He could’ve made a lot more money than he did but he enjoyed giving something back to family and friends.”

It’s said that heavy is the head that wears the crown, but continuing the legacy of generations is a weightier responsibility that Jarrad – and many of his generation – carries.

“If you look back over the past four generations, a lot of our people have worked in the main roads industry. My grandfather and great-grandfather were heavily involved in building the roads around WA and spent a lot of time away from their families. For me to have my own civil construction company and have a bit more self-determination, along with our people having control of our own destination, our future – that’s what I’m passionate about.”

Would he maybe consider running the whole state one day, I ask? He laughs, but he’s serious when he responds, “I’m busy enough!”

There’s no doubt about that. He has new ventures on the cards, keeping his eyes on growing industries like renewable energy and hospitality. But he’s circumspect about how much of his own time he can give to the company, and with a wife and four children under 10, what he’s already achieved is nothing short of amazing.

“I could easily let the business consume me. But my kids are the reason I’ve got Oaks. If it’s taking me away from my kids, it’s not actually doing what it’s set up to do. It’s a little thing, but I drop my kids off at school. It’s just an hour, but I don’t let that time get taken away from me.”

Jarrad’s legacy for his kids is already well on its way, and its solid foundations – his mum’s work ethic, his brother’s community spirit, his grandfather’s work for Main Roads – remind him where he’s come from, and how to keep going.

“If I can give any advice for starting your own business: focus on the things that you’re passionate about and the things that made you think about starting a business in the first place. When times get tough you think about those things and that’s what motivates you to push through. You’ve always got to remember why you started, what the purpose was. Do not finish until you achieve it. That’s why I continue to keep striving for more. I enjoy the fact that we can create and have big impact.”

Oaks Civil Construction Contact Details

P   (08) 9964 5016


If you are starting up a business and need support or would like to join YSRC’s Yamatji Business Register please email