The Australian Constructors Association’s (ACA) advocacy agenda focuses on the concept that three crucial elements are necessary for an enduring and sustainable construction industry – a good culture, equitable commercial frameworks and sufficient capability and capacity. Consider these as the three legs of a sturdy stool—if any one support is missing, the entire structure becomes unstable.

These past few years we’ve been on our hands and knees tightening the bolts under that stool. In the culture space, we have partnered with the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce to develop an industry-first Culture Standard. The Culture Standard is already being trialled on projects in NSW and Victoria, paving the way for widespread adoption. Further, our members have pledged to transform the culture of the industry within five years, setting ambitious goals for gender equality and flexibility and committing to rebranding the industry to attract more workers.

In another industry first, ACA and Engineers Australia refined benchmarks for skills and competencies across the sector, creating a pathway to recognise construction engineers globally in their area of expertise. This is not only critical to retain engineers already working in the industry but to also attract a more diverse range of people to join. It marks the beginning of our efforts to broaden opportunities within our sector, opening doors to innovation and excellence.

In recent times we added a focus on environmental sustainability to our strategic planning, recognising its significance in shaping the future of our industry.  At this year’s ACA strategy workshop we received feedback that confirmed the continued relevance of our focus areas. The addition of a sustainability overlay was also seen as valuable, signifying a growing recognition of the importance of environmental stewardship. However, the feedback also highlighted the need to place greater emphasis on improving industry productivity.

The persistently poor productivity within our industry is not a recent issue; it has plagued us for over three decades. Shockingly, our current productivity levels are even lower than they were 30 years ago. At ACA, we have tirelessly advocated for the realisation of the annual $57 billion productivity opportunity within the construction industry. This opportunity is not merely a hypothetical concept; it is a tangible and achievable goal.

To unlock this $57 billion productivity potential and simultaneously address environmental concerns, we must work towards improving all three crucial elements of the stool. We have plenty of suggestions to grasp this opportunity, many of which involve simple changes to how projects are procured, delivered and governed.

Working with Consult Australia we provided recommendations to aid the adoption of technology, improve reliance on tender information, streamline design reviews and for government to act as a model client. We have also developed initiatives like the Future Australian Infrastructure Rating (FAIR) to bring forward a national consistent approach to implementing reforms. By implementing these suggestions, we not just drive economic growth, we will be embracing sustainable practices.

Above all, and this is often an aspect that people hesitate to acknowledge, it remains abundantly clear that in order to achieve the urgently needed improvements, the industry must first become financial sustainable. Making money should not be seen as a crime. If we expect the industry to invest in research and development, we must ensure that it is making a reliable and reasonable return on the capital it already employs to deliver projects.

What we need now are willing partners to help achieve it and what better partner than the government? As the nation’s largest procurer of infrastructure, the government can lead the way and drive change throughout the industry.

If we get this right, we will close the productivity gap between construction and other major industries. Construction insolvency rates will finally reflect business participation rates. Skills shortages will not exist and the industry’s contribution to the national net zero ambition will be fulfilled.

The time for change is now. As the CEO of ACA, I urge all industry stakeholders to join us on this transformative journey. From the Federal Government down, improving the productivity performance of Australia’s construction industry must be a national priority and we stand ready to play our part.

Opinion piece by Jon Davies, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Constructors Association

Originally posted via 19 July 2023.