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Civil construction fuels skills shortage in Australia

With the country already suffering a chronic shortage of skilled workers, a large number of new projects have put new pressure on the Australian workforce. The Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) reports there are currently 98 projects in the advanced stages of development providing $260.8 billion in capital expenditure. This record level of investment represents a 34% increase from April 2011. It also means employers are facing fierce competition when trying to find skilled workers.  

Shift to construction

Because all 98 projects are either committed or under construction, workforce planning has moved towards finding workers with construction experience with special focus on heavy civil construction. The demand spans all sectors of the Australian resources industry with energy and mining equally dominating the list at 39 and 38 projects respectively. Infrastructure contributes an additional 19 projects and minerals and energy processing another two.

The impact on the staffing mix is significant. The early stages of these projects created demand for engineering skills, geologists and metallurgists. Beginning in April of this year, hiring started in earnest for project engineers and anyone with civil infrastructure experience. As many projects enter full-blown construction, the demand of skilled trades is increasing with welders, painters, sheet-metal workers and scaffolders needed in both mining and oil and gas projects.

Regional projects dwarf urban development

Western Australia outstrips every other state for demand of skilled workers with more than 41 projects underway, most of them centered on iron ore mining and LNG. Queensland is hosting another 29 projects with coal mining and coal seam gas projects making the largest contributions. While New South Wales doesn’t get as much press as the other mining states, they’re still responsible for a healthy 18 projects.

With projects in seven states or territories – Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania – nearly all the construction is being done in remote or regional areas. Almost 90 per cent of Australians live in urban areas putting additional pressure on sourcing candidates.

In traditional construction projects, much of the workforce comes from the local population. But the vast distances across the Australian outback make it nearly impossible to hire local. Employers are under pressure to source the right skills but also have to find people to fit into the culture of their worksites. Workers don’t go home at the end of a shift. They live on site for these big projects.

Staffing for fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) roles presents additional challenges for employers. Internationally recognised as having four of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world, it’s hard for some Australian city dwellers to make the leap to a regional worksite. The reality is not everyone wants to adopt a FIFO job no matter how lucrative the compensation packages.

As the skills shortage deepens, the employers are exploring many strategies to solve the looming crisis. One thing is certain; anyone with skills in the civil construction is going to be in high demand.

Reinvent Your Career would like to thank My Docstoc where this article first appeared.

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