The Australian Constructors Association has addressed government, business, industry, and union leaders at today’s Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra.
Speaking about the opportunity for the construction industry to create safe, fair and productive workplaces, the Australian Constructors Association CEO Jon Davies said 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% of all insolvencies in Australia,” said Mr Davies.
“It operates in deeply embedded ways and has been notoriously slow in adopting digital technologies—just hunting and fishing have a worse track record.”
Mr Davies says that 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% 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 discussion at the Summit, Mr Davies said 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.”
The Australian Constructors Association looks forward to continuing the discussions on day 2 of the Summit and the participating in future opportunities to collaborate.
Full speech by Jon Davies – Check against delivery
A healthy construction industry is the foundation of a strong economy.
The sector kept Australia moving through COVID, helped our communities recover from floods and bushfires, and is now leading our nation’s economic recovery through a record $248Bn investment in infrastructure over the next four years.
But this industry, Australia’s 3rd largest, which contributes 8% of GDP and employs 1 in 10 of the working population is not in great shape.
It operates on the slimmest of margins and accounts for 25% of all business insolvencies. It is so slow to change that only hunting and fishing have a worse track record when it comes to adoption of digital technologies.
Great progress has been made in recent years to improve the physical safety of our workers and that effort must continue, but the same focus needs to be applied to addressing other issues that are slowly killing our industry.
Of critical importance is the need to improve the culture of the industry because it is simply not good enough!
Women make up only 12% of our workforce and that percentage dwindles to single digits for trades. Disputes are common, and our workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a workplace incident.
Government, industry and unions recognise the need for cultural change and are taking positive steps to achieve this. An example is the Culture Standard, developed by the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce.
The Culture Standard is an important start in fixing our issues, but they are complex and interrelated.
And arguably, many of them are self-inflicted.
We love delivering ‘stuff’ you can see and touch—something you can show your kids and grandkids. We are also an optimistic bunch, that thrive on challenges, and we are all too happy to provide our clients a fixed price that includes managing risks that cannot be quantified even though we’ve seen that movie many times before and know how it ends.
Construction is not like manufacturing tins of beans, a commodity that can be easily priced.
It is a highly skilled industry that solves complex problems every day. It operates as a large network of businesses right across the economy from mum and dad contractors to large multinationals that generates a $3 stimulus for every $1 invested in projects.
There is a lot we should be proud of and yet our industry could and should be so much better.
If we could just halve the gap in productivity growth between construction and other major industries, we could be saving $15 billion annually and, most importantly, improve the lives of our workers.
Skilled migration and training are important, but they will not solve the skills shortage in the construction industry. The only way to do this is to lift our productivity and do more with the resources we already have.
To arrest the spiral of decline, and become a safer, fairer and more productive industry, we need to change.
We need to improve the culture of the industry, we need to improve our capability, capacity and skills and we need to become more financially sustainable.
But change will only happen if government, industry and unions leave behind the baggage of history.
We all need to 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 the government!