21-23 Apr 2020
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre

Australia’s Got Talent: Is the construction industry losing the war for talent?

Aug 16, 2018 Policy & Trends

Faced with a decline in personnel but an increase in workload, the construction industry is turning inward to analyse management practices and challenge traditional recruiting and retention strategies. A flag has been raised to increase the industry's ability to attract, develop, and retain top talent.

One of the major obstacles is how construction workers are portrayed in society. This hinders the industry’s reputation as a field that has the ability to be progressive and able to change with the times.

The fact there is a talent shortage cannot be swept under the rug. But a nationwide strategy implementation aims to address this, with the growth and utilisation of technology featuring heavily in the discussion.

Cause and effect

The talent shortage is particularly strong at the executive level, making it difficult for the industry to overcome challenges such as:

  • Difficulty staffing jobs with project management personnel: There are some vastly under qualified CEOs present onsite, which according to the Mckinsey Global Institute, is keeping the productivity of the construction industry “stuck at the same level as 80 years ago”.
  • Subcontractors’ challenges around hiring enough labour: This in turn impacts schedules, quality of the work completed, and can prove a hazard to safety results.
  • Cost of attracting qualified people rising faster than margins: What is now being seen as a daunting war for talent, this issue is fast becoming more vicious as time goes on.

This is not new knowledge for the industry, but there has been a startling lack of preparation that is making this talent shortage worse than it has to be.

Furthermore, Mckinsey’s report has revealed that the retirement of the baby boomers will leave a knowledge and experience gap that may not be readily filled by underqualified generation Xers and millennials who are now shunning the construction industry.

Short-term solutions

There are a number of short term strategies that are being implemented across the board, loosley built off research by a McKinsey Global Institute report. These include:

  • Going back to heavy reliance on hiring and training of entry-level construction professionals: It sounds like a given but more and more the construction industry has built a reliance on skills and experience over age, meaning many of the most qualified people are typically older and thus nearing retirement. The median age in the construction industry is a high 38 years according to Labour Market Information Portal. Very little has been invested in forward thinking and marketing for school leavers or late teens to join the workforce.
  • Working closer with unions: The recent amalgamation of the MUA and CFMEU will encourage qualitative training and expand the ranks of the younger generations who are seeking safety in employment like never before. In light of the CFMEU
  • Rethinking construction career paths to address younger workers’ workplace goals: Young people typically want advancement, and an inclusion into decision making, with 55 percent citing that as a motivation when choosing a job according to Impraise. This doesn’t mean they start becoming CEOs overnight, but rather give young workers a voice that can make them feel empowered and equip them for leadership down the track.
  • Telling the story that construction is becoming steadily more tech-centred and an exciting, quickly evolving field with a wide range of career paths: If the industry can break this stigma about technological backwardness, many young people searching for flexibility that only technology can provide, would join in the droves.

Long-term opportunity

The industry is providing long-term sustainability and growth in three ways, all of which are centralised around the inclusion, promotion and advocation of new technologies.

The first way is through the maturation of the industry itself. The pace of innovation in construction, due in part to globalisation, is driving new technologies to the fore. This in turn will begin several changes to the construction landscape which centralise on training for new technologies and increase in career opportunities for those who become proficient in them.

Wu Yi Doric is one such company utilising new technologies and despite being present in over 30 countries across the world is only just breaking into the Australian construction industry.

The company has completed a number of major Australian projects since 2016 including: the City of Perth Library and the Albany entertainment centre. For their design on the City of Perth Library, Wu Yi Doric won the George Temple Pool Award — awarded to the most highly regarded building of the year in Western Australia.

The second opportunity is for risk management professionals. Typically referring to insurance professionals, risk management is a whole lot more than buying and selling a product. There must be a transition in the industry where risk professionals move from being outsourced, into being an integral part of the onsite, permanent, C-suite team.

The third opportunity is in the marketplace, as the ongoing buyers market means a predictable spend for the foreseeable future.

Whilst technology has been adding to the headache of finding talent, as jobs require greater skills, it may very well be the long term solution for an industry in desperate need of a makeover.

Showcasing rising stars at DesignBUILD

DesignBUILD supports nurturing new and emerging talent in Australia’s architecture, building, construction and design communities. As the industry’s leading trade event, we partner with local universities in Sydney and Melbourne for our DesignBUILD RAW initiative.

RAW is a collaborative project between leading architecture and design universities and DesignBUILD to showcase budding talent directly to current industry professionals. The project gives university Architecture and Design students the chance to experience the full tender and construction process as they compete to have their designs built as key feature areas on the show floor.

About the author: Tim Buttery

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