Home' Future Building Australian Infrastructure Review : July 2011 Contents Skills crisis at tipping point
design or construction task. ‘However, the floods
and cyclones will draw heavily on skilled trades,
such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and
others,’ he said.
Yet even the significant impact of Queensland’s
rebuilding efforts is small, relative to the mining
boom’s rapacious demand for skilled labour. With a
record $130 billion of mining projects on the drawing
board, resource and mining services companies are
desperate to find workers to build these mines, while
global demand and prices remain strong.
The Age newspaper recently reported welders at
offshore oil and gas projects are seeking remuneration
of more than $400,000 per annum, while cleaners in
remote mining projects are earning six-figure wages.
Sky-high pay packets in the mining industry will
become an even bigger magnet for skilled workers
from other industries. The risk is that without a safety
valve on skills and labour, the valuable resource
industry could crowd out other important sectors,
And the challenge is further complicated by an
increasingly globalised and mobile workforce. A big
unknown is how the massive reconstruction required
in Japan and ongoing development across the Asia
Pacific might further complicate Australia’s domestic
Regional demand for highly qualified Australian
workers is part of a worldwide trend in which
highly skilled technical personnel are becoming a
global commodity – with skills readily transferable.
Rodd Staples says, ‘It is now not uncommon for
highly skilled personnel to follow work beyond
opportunities from one state to another, as well as
across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, including
the Middle East.’
Abigroup Managing Director David Jurd sees the
skills shortage as a key issue for his business. ‘We are
sailing into the next infrastructure boom and with
the peak at late 2012 or beyond, the skills shortage
is certain to worsen,’ he says.
He argues that better coordination between
governments and industry holds a key to managing
the call on resources.
‘To the extent that this boom is driven by public
sector spending, a visible and reliable pipeline of
projects is crucial to plan and manage resources.
We would encourage an expanded mandate for
Infrastructure Australia, and are encouraged by the
establishment of Infrastructure NSW,’ he says.
John Holland’s Executive General Manager of
infrastructure, Chris Evans, has a front-row view of the
effect of skills shortages. ‘Before the global financial
crisis, we found it difficult to get skilled and unskilled
workers in some sectors. Some of that pressure was
relieved when the GFC struck in 2008, but it is rapidly
building again. I wouldn’t say we are quite at that pre-
GFC pinch point with skills shortages, but we are
getting closer by the day,’ he says.
‘The competition for skilled talent is extraordinary,
and one of the ways that it is manifesting is in higher
wages. This skills shortage is already affecting
infrastructure projects that need to compete for these
workers, and I expect to see this problem worsen this
year and next. Some infrastructure projects that were
previously red-hot could be significantly impacted
if they cannot keep or find enough skilled workers.
Infrastructure projects work on tight margins and
timelines, and this industry has a “peaky” nature.
The projects will suffer under conditions of wage
instability or project delays brought about by worker
Evans says one solution is better recognition
of previous experience. ‘Australian industry and
government must look at ways to accelerate
apprenticeships and traineeships. We need to
Continued on page 24
Volume 2 Number 1
demand for highly
workers is part of a
worldwide trend in
which highly skilled
are becoming a
with skills readily
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