I was honoured to represent the construction industry at last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit. The construction industry did not come home empty handed – government, industry and unions have all committed to working together to improve the sustainability of the sector.

Jobs and Skills Summit

On day 1 of the Summit I had the privilege of speaking about the opportunity for the construction industry to create safe, fair and productive workplaces. It is fair to say there is a lot the industry should be proud of and yet the industry could be so much better.

As Australia’s third largest industry, employing 1 in 10 of the working population, construction offers some of the most exciting and rewarding careers that will see Australia transition to a more sustainable and connected future. But this very industry runs on wafer thin margins and accounts for 25 per cent of all insolvencies in Australia. It operates in deeply embedded ways and has been notoriously slow in adopting digital technologies—just hunting and fishing have a worse track record.

While in the last decade, great progress has been made to improve the physical safety of the industry’s workers, the same focus needs to be applied to addressing other issues that have, by comparison, been neglected. Of critical importance is the need to improve the culture of the industry. Women make up only 12 per cent of our workforce and that percentage dwindles to single digits for trades. Disputes are common, stress is an issue and workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a workplace incident.

Reflecting on the discussions it was clear there is a tripartite view on the need for change. Change will only happen if government, industry and unions work collaboratively together as never seen before. And we need a disciplined client, a responsible client, a model client who will help us to move in the right direction. That client is government and that is exactly why the Australian Constructors Association has proposed the Future Australian Infrastructure Rating—FAIR.

It is widely accepted that the Federal Government is in the driver’s seat with its buying power and our idea for the new ratings initiative to drive change in the construction industry was well received. FAIR provides a mechanism for the Federal Government to ensure reforms are implemented. Essentially, FAIR would rate government funded projects on how well they performed against key reform areas such as improved productivity and increased female participation. Federally funded projects undertaken by state government delivery agencies would be given a rating that would be published, leading them to strive for increasingly better outcomes for their stakeholders.

The FAIR initiative could be included in the next iteration of the National Partnership Agreement as a requirement for all federally funded projects. If implemented, FAIR will help governments address the industry’s skills shortage and unlock productivity gains, and in the process strengthen the industry.

National Construction Industry Forum

While we are still working with the government to commit to taking steps to implement the FAIR ratings initiative, a positive step forward was the announcement of a tripartite National Construction Industry Forum. The forum will comprise representatives from government, unions and business, including the Australian Constructors Association.

This is an exciting opportunity for the industry to leave behind the baggage of history. Government, industry and unions have an opportunity to build a stronger, more sustainable construction industry and we need to grasp it with both hands. This is our opportunity to work together to transform, as other sectors have, so we can emerge as a worldwide leader and industry of choice for future generations of workers.

With a focus on improving the sustainability of the industry, the group’s priorities are to tackle the cultural issues that are preventing women from joining the workforce, address the industry’s poor mental health, develop industry capability and capacity and improve productivity.

A happy workforce is a productive workforce and improvements in culture will go a long way in easing the capacity constraints facing today’s constrained labour market. If we could just halve the gap in productivity growth between construction and other major industries, we could be saving $15 billion annually and, importantly, significantly reduce the number of resources needed to deliver the record pipeline of work. We are ready to work collaboratively together to address the significant issues facing our industry and we applaud the Federal Government for leading the way.

Partnership for change

The scarcity of qualified skilled workers is one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry and it cannot be solved by migration and training alone. I’ve made the point many times that the industry has no choice but to become more productive—to do more with the resources we already have. Through our partnership initiative with Consult Australia we developed a series of thought leadership papers to help the industry achieve this—more with less. The papers provide recommendations to aid the adoption of technology, improve reliance on tender information, streamline design reviews and for government delivery agencies to lead the way. I’m pleased to say that I have been encouraged by the positive engagement with industry stakeholders on these papers. Find out more here.

Welcome Built and BESIX Watpac

 The Australian Constructors Association is broadening its influence in the built form, this past month announcing two new members, Built and BESIX Watpac. The growth in membership is testament to the important role the association performs in bringing stakeholders together to collaborate and influence positive industry change.

Built’s Managing Director Brett Mason and BESIX Watpac’s CEO Mark Baker and Group Corporate Affairs Manager Katie O’Malley have now joined ACA’s Board of Directors.


 Australian Construction Achievement Award

Entries for the 2023 Australian Construction Achievement Award (ACAA) are now open.

ACAA is Australia’s leading construction award. Now in its 26th year, the black-tie award dinner will be hosted in Melbourne at The Palladium at Crown Wednesday 3 May 2023 in conjunction with the Future Construction Summit 2023 (FCON 2023).

Be recognised for expertise in delivering complex projects by completing an online entry for this prestigious award. Complete your Stage 1 entry by 30 November 2022.

Read about the 2022 Award in this month’s edition of Inside Construction.