Bridging the gap to Australia’s next infrastructure boom

Australia is in the midst of an unprecedented boom in infrastructure.

Headshot of David Simpson
David Simpson
Chief Executive, Transport
22 September 2023

Population growth is driving demand for infrastructure across the board including housing, social infrastructure, and public transport. According to Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Market Capacity 2022 Report, demand for public infrastructure grew by $15 billion in one year alone.

A strong pipeline of major infrastructure projects is essential to boosting the economy, enhancing productivity and improving the lives of communities across the country.

However, the growing need for quality infrastructure is playing out against a backdrop of climate anxiety, rising interest rates, increasing government debt, skills shortages and global geopolitical shifts and tensions.

With significant investment already starting to flow toward the renewable energy sector and to bolstering Australia’s national security, the question remains — how can government and industry mobilise to meet demand?

A significant pipeline of opportunity

In just seven years’ time, the Federal Government wants Australia to be 82 per cent powered by renewable energy. This is a big ask that will require rapid transformation of where our energy is currently coming from, given only 35 per cent of our power came from renewable sources last year.

A report released by RACE for 2030, a government funded cooperative for energy research, estimated that the number of jobs required by the clean energy sector in 2030 is to increase by between 130,000 and 200,000, a sharp increase from the estimated 30,000 jobs the renewable energy industry currently demands.

Furthermore, the release of the Defence Strategic Review earlier this year signalled that significant investment will be required in order to strengthen Australia’s national security and ensure future readiness in light of the most difficult strategic climate since the Second World War.

Over the next four years, the Federal Government will invest more than $19 billion toward the immediate priorities identified in the Defence Strategic Review.

The $300 billion allocated to the AUKUS plan for Australia to acquire and manufacture nuclear-powered submarines is anticipated to create 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 years. This is in addition to the billions of funding allocated toward north base infrastructure and long-range strike capabilities.

With these significant pipelines of investment on the horizon, and a capable workforce needed to deliver them, government and industry need to seize every opportunity available to rapidly scale up capacity and make the most of the transferable skills at hand.

Partnering to develop solutions

Thousands of skilled workers are needed to keep Australia’s infrastructure boom booming. The workers required over the next 30 years to continue delivering the nation building transport, social infrastructure, renewable energy, and defence projects will look very different from those required over the previous decades.

Understanding the skills, training, and knowledge required will be essential to leverage the opportunities that arise in the forward pipeline of investment. I believe that there are a few ways we can achieve this.

Redeploy transferable skills

There is a major benefit to deploying the skills and capability currently working across major infrastructure projects.

For instance, at The APP Group, our people are helping tackle Australia’s most complex projects and challenges across a range of sectors. Our engineers and technical experts have been providing Independent Certification and Verification services for many of Australia’s infrastructure mega-projects such as North East Link, West Gate Tunnel, Cross River Rail, Tonkin Gap, and Sydney Metro.

We also partner with clients to provide Transport advisory and project delivery services and advice across a broad spectrum of complex city-shaping projects, such as the John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct, Curtin University, Chadstone, Geelong Port, and the Western Renewables Link in Victoria.

There is a significant opportunity here to translate these skills and extensive capabilities over to assist with the energy transition. Given the risks inherent to major project ventures, it is imperative that clients have an independent, rigorous reporting structure in place.

On major infrastructure and heavy engineering projects, the Independent Certifier and Verifier role has been used historically and is becoming increasingly necessary in all sectors as complex financial arrangements are structured to secure a project’s tenure.

The demand for skilled workers is higher than supply, so it won’t always be possible to employ someone new to do the work.

Instead, many organisations already have access to the talent they need. Getting the best out of the current workforce will be key to fostering capacity, productivity and sustainability across the sector.

Enhance productivity through innovation

The challenges around Australia’s ability to meet infrastructure demand will only intensify in the future. Population growth, supply chain disruptions, and new technologies have made innovation a non-negotiable to securing the delivery of major infrastructure projects.

By leveraging innovative approaches to contracting and delivery across the infrastructure lifecycle, the sector can boost productivity and drive better outcomes for the community.

The adoption of new delivery models such as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), a new way of building that leverages modular and off-site manufacturing techniques which is gathering speed in the property and social infrastructure sectors, can be applied to projects to enable improvements in productivity, quality and safety.

By integrating innovative techniques into the lifecycle of an asset, we can yield a step-change and enable economies of scale that drive delivery success.

Build industry capacity and capability

The infrastructure sector relies on a range of workers and skills to deliver projects. Even despite the solutions presented above, finding the right people with the right skills will continue to be a challenge. Skilling up the next generation and attracting new workers to the sector must be part of the solution, and government and industry must work together to remove the barriers putting constraints on supply.

Ways to bridge the capacity and capability gap going forward include upskilling the current workforce, reframing the culture of the industry to retain more talent, and seeking ways to increase the talent pool through diversity and training the future workforce.

The challenges for the capability and capacity of Australia’s infrastructure workforce are clear. But by acting early and by acting strategically, government and industry together can find solutions to help deliver this once in a lifetime investment pipeline in the years to come.

Originally published by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.