Opinion piece by Jon Davies, CEO, Australian Constructors Association – published 12 January 2024 in the Daily Telegraph.

Imagine a future where every construction project is completed on time and on budget, and the only newspaper headlines celebrate the sheer skill and excellence displayed in the structures being built. Picture construction companies operating with the efficiency and profitability of Tesla, investing in a thriving local manufacturing industry producing prefabricated building modules and project components in a safe, quality-controlled environment, all while significantly reducing both carbon emissions and costs to taxpayers.

This vision could position Australia as one of the most advanced countries in the world!

In this future, project owners, contractors, designers, suppliers and unions align seamlessly, working collaboratively to maximise both project and social outcomes. Beyond that, picture a scenario where everyone in the construction industry works less than 40 hours a week, women make up more than 13 per cent of the workforce and an industry wellbeing program is accessible to all. Imagine this all leading to the construction industry becoming Australia’s most sought-after employer.

Some may question if this isn’t already happening, while others, especially those entrenched in the industry, might find this utopian vision too good to be true. However, the reality is that many elements of this future are already in motion or moving closer to reality.

School Infrastructure NSW is pioneering modern construction methods, such as prefabricated components manufactured off-site by local industries, resulting in time savings of 30 per cent and a greatly reduced carbon footprint for new schools.

Looking overseas for inspiration, consider the Madrid subway extension. Using a modular design and doing away with architectural embellishments, the extension, comprising 131 kilometres of track and 76 stations, was completed in just eight years. By contrast, the Sydney Metro project is currently made up of 113 kilometres of track and 46 stations. It is scheduled to take over twice as long to complete. Still, the recent independent review of the Metro project has provided an opportunity to reflect and consider more efficient and collaborative ways to deliver the remaining scope and possible future extensions.

Transport for NSW is leading a national initiative to reduce carbon emissions from road and rail projects and is working with industry to find ways to procure and deliver projects more efficiently and collaboratively.

Workers on Health Infrastructure projects in NSW are increasingly working a five-day week and trials are underway for a nationwide construction ‘culture standard’ to embed flexible working arrangements and wellbeing initiatives on all government funded projects, including major roads and railway developments.

Through its Women in Construction Program, the NSW Government has invested $20.2 million to triple the number of women in construction by 2030. This program includes components focused on creating a skills legacy and improving innovation.

For our part, the nation’s largest contractors – those forming part of the Australian Constructors Association – have pledged to embed flexible work plans for staff on all their projects and within five years 75 per cent of them will be recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency as ‘Employers of Choice’. Moreover, a campaign to attract more women into blue collar roles in the industry is on the horizon.

While many of these initiatives focus on large government projects and involve major contractors, I believe that because of the scale of projects involved, the changes will ultimately flow through all levels and all sectors of the industry, and let’s be frank, this change must happen. The construction industry cannot continue down the path of busts, blowouts and delays. It is not in the interest of workers, it is not in the interests of contractors, and it is definitely not in the interests of the State.

The future is already here; bring on the future!