Joseph the Worker (JTW) Building Group has been operating for nearly 11 years, renovating homes in the southeast suburbs of Melbourne. Having nearly left the industry altogether because of poor industry conditions and instability, Joe Van Strijp, the company’s founder, strives to lead a team of ‘ethical tradesmen’.

Faith and carpentry have always been in Joe’s bones. He grew up as an altar server in his family’s parish, and his father ran a furniture business for 25 years, passing on a love for ‘timber and pine’. At 17, he got an apprenticeship and went on to become a qualified carpenter.

‘I was subcontracting as a qualified carpenter,’ he says, ‘and the builders were not treating me very ethically … I felt like I was getting a big run around.’ From not receiving super to needing to chase down his wages—or being paid the wrong amount when he finally was paid—Joe describes those early years as ‘a hard learning curve’.

‘I discovered very quickly that there was an opening in the market for more ethical tradesmen,’ he says. ‘The whole environment was pretty damaging for my spiritual life, too, I moved away from the building industry and into the sports and fitness industry full time, looking for a fresh change where I could help empower others.’

But those years also planted a seed in Joe’s mind: ‘I thought that if I ever get the chance to create my own company, I’m going to really strive hard, not just personally to become a saint, but integrate that into my business.’ In this regard, Joe has been greatly inspired by St Josemaría Escrivá, who emphasised the possibility of holiness in ordinary, everyday things, especially our work.

It was always [St Joseph’s] business. It’s still his business. We pray to him every day.

In the meantime, though, Joe took a break from the industry and moved to South Australia for what he calls a ‘slight detour’ into leading Adelaide’s largest martial arts organisation, GKR Karate.

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Joe Van Strijp

Since he was five, Joe has also been involved in a variety of martial arts. The organisation he ran in Adelaide, founded by a Christian, specialised in karate.

‘It was very sobering,’ he says, reflecting on that time away from carpentry. ‘It was good for getting the balance right in my life … I think apart from the physical aspect of it, like the health benefits and flexibility, just the discipline that it brought was very impactful for me becoming a father and becoming a business owner—and ultimately helping with my faith as well.’

His time away was also the chance to learn good business skills, so when he returned to Victoria he felt ready to start an outfit of his own.

I’m going to really strive hard, not just personally to become a saint, but integrate that into my business.

From the very beginning, it was named after St Joseph the Worker. ‘It was always his business. It’s still his business. We pray to him every day.’

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Joe Van Strijp’s statue of St Joseph the Worker

The slogan for the JTW Building Group is ‘The Ethical Tradesmen’, which is born from Joe’s desire to make a difference in the industry. ‘The culture of the ethical tradesmen is infused into everything we do. From meeting a client and turning up on time, being professional and polite, through to following through on pricing, quality of workmanship, not swearing, and having tradesmen treat the homes like their own.’

‘That stands out in our modern world. People go, “There’s something unique about these guys,” and they want more of it, and referrals come from that.’

Joe is a firm believer that ‘good ethics is good business’, and he’s seen that play out with his JTW Building Group.

There’s always more to learn.

That’s not to say everything has been easy. In fact, he says, commitment to ethics comes with a ‘cost’. During the COVID pandemic, while other construction businesses continued to work, those years ‘almost put us under’, he says.

In order to cut costs and navigate the effects of lockdowns, a lot of businesses jettisoned their employees. Joe didn’t want to. ‘We had a couple of apprentices that we stuck by and helped them through. That came at a cost for us, but we wanted to make sure we stood by our staff and did everything we could to keep them going. We put our employees and our team first.’

During this time, Joe and his team at JTW took a step back to look at some big picture questions and have now ‘reinvented’ themselves. Alongside making practical business adjustments to streamline things, one of the biggest changes for Joe was taking on a ‘business mentor’. ‘It was so that my personal growth and professional development was always growing. I think I got to a point where I [felt] I couldn’t go anymore, but I’d capped myself off.’

Good ethics is good business.

Joe found a renewed commitment to constant growth and upskilling, and makes sure there’s always ‘lots of prayer’ sustaining him and the business.

Joe has since gone back to study and obtained his Builder’s licence, widening the company’s scope to include new builds, extensions, and whole home renovations.

Joe and his family live in ‘the hills’ and are parishioners at St Philip’s Catholic Church, Blackburn North, where their four boys continue the ‘family affair’ of building.

‘That’s the kind of culture we like to bring, where the kids can grow up imbibing the faith, the ethics and the discipline. There’s always a project around here—the kids are helping us build cubby houses or retaining walls and fences,’ Joe says. ‘It’s all part of living in the hills.’

In terms of the future, Joe is very hopeful.

‘If you do good work, there’s plenty of work, and there’s plenty of people out there looking for quality builders, especially in our current climate. And there’s always more to learn, so that keeps us humble.’