Australia’s construction sector remains stuck with outdated practices and beliefs, a new report has found.
In the 2022 edition of its How We Build Now report, construction management software provider Procore examined current sentiment and practice across multiple areas of the building industry. The report is based on a survey of more than 1,000 construction decision makers from five Asia Pacific countries (see below).
Encouragingly, the report found that optimism persists despite cost and resource challenges.
All up, 85 percent of survey participants from Australia and 91 percent overall were either somewhat or very confident about twelve-month prospects.
Moreover, participants felt that greater adoption of technology will help to improve efficiency, reduce rework, boost industry capacity and deliver better quality with fewer defects.
Particularly in Australia, however, the survey pointed to ongoing challenges.
- Between one quarter (24 percent) and one third (36 percent) of those surveyed still use paper systems to track and manage data for tasks such as safety, project management and quality management (see chart).
- Across all countries surveyed, 16 percent of project time is spent on rework and correcting errors. On this score, Australia is performing s better than its counterparts and has reduced rework time from 20 percent to 12 percent over the past two years.
- Australian construction firms lag regional counterparts on digital transformation. Overall, only 22 percent of Australian firms are ‘digital first’ companies whilst a further 54 percent are on their way toward digital transformation. This compares with 24 percent and 58 percent of firms regionally who can say likewise. On each of traditional BIM, next generation BIM, artificial intelligence/machine learning and Internet of Things, Australian firms lag regional counterparts in both current and intended adoption (see chart).
- Australian firms lag regional counterparts on attitudes toward sustainability. All up, only 48 percent and 43 percent of Australian survey participants believed that the construction industry should do more to improve environmental practices or that improving energy efficiency of builds should be a greater priority in projects. This compares 56 percent and 54 percent of respondents who believe likewise region-wide
- Attitudes toward gender diversity are lagging everywhere. Across those surveyed, just 39 percent believe that women will form a key part of the construction workforce over the next ten years.
- Australia lags on construction gender diversity. Whereas women across the five countries made up 20 percent, 22 percent and 23 percent of site managers, subcontractors and trade staff respectively, female penetration in these roles in Australia is as low as low as 12 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent. This is despite 54 percent of Australian firms having a gender diversity policy.
During the online launch of its report last week, Procore hosted a discussion forum exploring important themes.
The discussion was moderated by Hannah Morton, Associate, Cundall.
Panelists included David Cremona, National Director of Construction, Meriton Group; Matthew Press, Executive Director of Compliance and Dispute Resolution, SafeWork NSW & NSW Fair Trading; Scott Meads, National Quality and Systems Manager, Fletcher Construction Company; and Dominique Gill, Managing Director, Urban Core.
Several themes emerged.
1. Proactive strategies are needed to improve resilience of construction businesses.
Amid cost and resource challenges, panelists argue that contractors should adopt strategies to improve the resilience of their business.
Speaking about Urban Core, Gill says her firm’s actions centre around small but important measures.
- Adopting a responsible approach toward financial management and accepting work only where this matches a sensible risk profile.
- Boosting retention of existing staff through means such as flexible working arrangements, reasonable working hours and work/life balance, and creating a positive culture based upon lifelong learning.
- Sustainability initiatives which move beyond reacting to client demands on specific projects. At Urban Core, this includes internal targets which are reported on annually.
- Investing in technology, which not only improves project efficiency and control but also ties in with sustainability and reputation objectives.
2. Staff Training is Key on Technology Value
Despite acknowledgement of the benefits which technology can deliver, panelists argued that staff training was critical in order to derive maximum value from this.
Whilst it may be fine to roll out Procore or another system, Press says this is akin to handing out cricket bats without teaching people how to play cricket if it is not accompanied by training about how to use the system to for best outcomes. He adds that with many people still using 2D PDFs for information management, getting people up to speed with using sophisticated digital tools will take time.
Cremona agrees, adding that large players need to lead the way.
“Procore is a great tool, but if you don’t train your staff on how to use it, it won’t be used to its potential,” Cremona said.
“Training is the forefront of what we need to do to continue as a business …
“… If you just buy this technology and are not training your staff, you are not using it (the technology) to the great advantages that it can provide.”
3. Better Environmental and Quality Practices Are Needed
As noted above, construction decision makers in Australia are less concerned about sustainability and energy efficiency compared with regional counterparts.
To some extent, this may reflect Australia’s relatively strong existing performance in this area. For many years, companies in the Oceania region have led international counterparts in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) for reporting and accountability on social, environmental and governance practices.
Still, Press says practices could be improved.
When visiting sites, he regularly encounters bins which are full of waste. Often, rubbish is not separated out and cardboard, metals and general construction waste are lumped together.
Rather, he says the need for waste should be eliminated during design – potentially through prefabricated parts.
Particularly with residential consumers, meanwhile, Press says the meaning of different ratings should be articulated more clearly. When comparing a six-star home to one of three-and-a-half stars, builders should be clear about what this means in terms of homes being cooler, warmer or needing air-conditioning.
In terms of quality, meanwhile, Press says a new trustworthiness index developed by the Office of the Building Commissioner in NSW is helping to raise awareness about the differences regarding the trustworthiness of various developers to deliver a safe and compliant product.
4. More must be done to attract and retain women
Finally, more needs to be done to attract and retain women in construction. As things stand, ABS data suggests that men outnumber women in the construction workforce by seven to one – a figure which has barely moved over recent decades.
Gill says the survey finding that only 39 percent of respondents see women as being a key part of the construction workforce is alarming.
She says part of the problem involves perceptions about the industry among young girls. Speaking to girls in Year 10 and Year 11, Gill says many see the industry as being rife with bullying and harassment. After her 25-minute presentation about what the sector can offer, many become interested in the industry as a career choice.
Whilst the need to attract and retain more women in construction is widely acknowledged, he says the industry has been let down by its execution in this area.
In their formative years at school, Press says many girls view construction as a dirty industry which is all about lifting and labour. To address this, the industry needs to raise awareness of the breadth of opportunities for both men and women across the building sector and its supply chain.
In addition, Press talks of the need to retain those who enter the industry – woman and men. Whilst he acknowledges the importance of bigger picture strategies, he says the need for basics such as portable toilets and on-site amenity should not be overlooked.
How does your organisation compare?
The report is the third in Procore’s annual ‘How We Build Now’ series and is the first to feature APAC as an entire region.
Tom Karechemar, vice president APAC at Project Technologies, says the report provides a baseline against which organisations can benchmark their performance against regional peers.
“Each time we conduct the How We Build Now survey, we see different challenges developing for the construction industry,” Karechemar said.
“At the core, the most resilient and ambitious companies leverage technology to drive productivity and profitability. Being our first APAC-wide report, we hope this provides companies a good understanding of where they sit in the industry and how they can develop by not only benchmarking themselves against their Australian peers, but also those in neighbouring countries,”
The survey was conducted in February 2022.
Of the 1,138 respondents, 314 were from Australia whilst 223 were from Malaysia, 114 were from New Zealand, 259 were from the Philippines and 228 were from Singapore.
In terms of size, 17 percent of respondents were from small companies (1-9 employees) whilst 30 percent were from medium sized firms (10 to 99 staff) and 53 percent were from larger firms.