Challenge to keep the mix on the boil
FOR an industry that suddenly finds itself with a bulging order- book, any assistance it can get in the education and training of an ever- growing workforce is greatly appreciated. Under its contractual relationship with the Australian Government, SkillsDMC is a not- for- profit organisation with the primary role of educating and training construction workers with the flexibility to meet the range of industry needs and the rigour to satisfy educational and regulatory requirements across Australia.
It used to be known as the National Industry Skills Council for Drilling, Mining, Quarrying and Civil Infrastructure Industries, but SkillsDMC chief executive, Des Caulfield, says the name change reflects a massive re- ordering of the approach of the body.
He also believes the current construction boom is as much a reflection of shortages as anything else.
‘‘ The prospects are very good but when we look out to the future, when you consider the proposed investment in infrastructure in a place like south- east Queensland alone which has a proposed $ 100m of work set to go, there is literally a demand for thousands of workers,’’ he says. ‘‘ The future looks very rosy in that area and in other states too.
‘‘ The reason is that the area of infrastructure hasn’t received for a number of years the appropriate injection of funds, but now state governments are looking at a number of projects to ensure that Australia keeps going from an economic point of view.
‘‘ When you look at rail in terms of getting product to the ports, when you look at the ports in terms of getting exports out, when you look at roads and telecommunications, etc, it’s quite substantial. If you look at green utilities like windfarms, that’s all in the mix.’’
While SkillsDMC will not provide direct, recognised, training provision, a range of quality services and products has been identified to enable the Skills Council to assist and meet enterprise skills development requirements in streamlined, strategic and cost- effective ways.
The requirement for trained people is very strong, and SkillsDMC is endeavouring to get industry to do some planning and to look at what they need on the demand side and then ask how it can supply the appropriately skilled people to those areas.
That covers everything from civil engineers to drilling to working massive pieces of equipment.
‘‘ One often hears the notion of unskilled labour, but there’s no such thing anymore,’’ Mr Caulfield says.
‘‘ When you consider the equipment they use today and the responsibility required for what tends to be very expensive capital and the outcomes of using that equipment - many of these people are clearly highly valuable.
‘‘ The trouble we’re having is because of the changes we’re having in workplace organisation, so that demand for traditional areas isn’t so strong.
‘‘ So we have to look at what competencies are actually required in the modern workplace and the number of people you need against each profile.
‘‘ We’re trying to help industry recognise those patterns of demand - we’re providing the industry with a means of profiling against training packages by establishing competencies required by operations, then helping people acquire those competencies.’’ But civil and commercial construction are not the only industries being held by population pressures, and Mr Caulfield believes a broader strategy is required if are to continue fuelling growth.
‘‘ It’s a massive time and all sectors are feeding from the same source of labour and unfortunately that well is pretty dry, and it needs to be replenished,’’ he says.
‘‘ People within the industry are taking steps starting from school leavers: not only do we have labour shortages but we also have skill shortages, and we see in the future that this will increase unless we act, because the projected birthrate and numbers of school- leavers simply does not match the number currently leaving the broader industry. Like many others, we have an ageing population and also a narrowing working population, as people join us later and leave us earlier.
‘‘ This compares to the anticipated huge influx of investment over the next few years and the aspect of how busy other industries are at the moment. The frightening thing is that people want skilled employees today, not tomorrow.’’