As Australia’s record breaking construction boom rolls on, professionals across multiple areas including surveying, contracts management and health and safety are in massive demand.
Australia’s construction sector is booming. In the March quarter, the seasonally adjusted value of building and engineering work done throughout the nation came in at $51.2 billion, according to ABS data. That’s far higher than at any other period except for the years of the resource sector investment boom.
Building work ($28.2 billion), has risen by 28 per cent over the past six years. As at March 31, a record 227,010 new houses and apartments were under construction. At $4.536 billion (March quarter), levels of road building work are far beyond anything seen before. Each of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have mega rail projects either planned or in construction. Commercial and public sector building activity is gaining momentum.
This can be seen on the ground. In April, quantity surveying and advisory firm Rider Levitt Bucknall counted 684 cranes across the skylines of Australian cities. Melbourne, Newcastle and Hobart each had more cranes in operation compared with any other count RLB had conducted previously.
Not surprisingly, demand for workers is red hot. As at May 31, ABS data indicates that 1.174 million Australians were employed either full time or part-time across Australia’s architecture, engineering and building industry – the second highest level on record. Over the past four years, the construction sector has added 156,000 employees and self-employed businesspeople to its headcount.
Compared with the same quarter last year, the number of job advertisements for construction professionals placed on Seek was up six per cent. Advertisements for health and safety professionals, surveying, plant and machinery operators, planning and scheduling and quality assurance and control are all well up. As at June, federal government data indicates that job vacancies for construction managers stood at 4,584 (three month moving average) – well above the 4,019 and 3,867 recorded in June 2017 and June 2016 respectively.
Salary growth, whilst muted overall, is also reasonable in some areas. Overall, ABS data indicates that hourly rates of pay excluding bonuses throughout the construction sector increased by only 1.8 per cent over the year to March. This is slightly below the 2.1 per cent salary growth experienced across all industries. According to Seek, average salaries advertised over the 12 months to May this year was up by a modest two per cent compared with the year to May 2017.
Nevertheless, the Seek data indicates that workers across health and safety, planning and scheduling, and quality assurance are bringing in healthy average pay rises of four per cent each. Plant and machinery operators, meanwhile, have seen increases of five per cent.
Most of the growth is concentrated across the eastern seaboard. New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT are all firing across the residential, commercial and civil markets. Tasmania, as well, has seen a bigger range of projects come through.
Joel Donnelly, regional director at recruitment firm Michael Page, says demand for workers is being driven by high levels of activity.
According to Donnelly, the largest band of activity is in eastern seaboard infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, robust conditions into areas such as construction office, retail, residential and industrial buildings and facilities.
In addition, availability of foreign workers has tightened amid tougher visa restrictions and greater competition for talent from projects in international markets.
As a result, the current market is extremely favourable for candidates.
As for remuneration, Donnelly says that whilst salary growth remains in check, quality candidates are pulling in a premium.
“There are definitely more roles than candidates at the moment,” he said.
Others agree. In the most recent edition of its Jobs report, recruitment firm Hays talks of demand for numerous skills across several states. This includes estimators, project engineers, contract administrators, project managers, site supervisors and site forepersons.
In the near-term, forward indicators are promising. Notwithstanding a slight sag in residential, participants in the latest Property Council of Australia-ANZ Property Industry Confidence Survey indicated net positive expectations for construction activity over the coming 12 months across all sectors. Across most segments of commercial and infrastructure (but not multi-residential), major contractors who participated in the most recent Ai Group/Australian Constructors Association Construction Outlook survey indicated optimism about increases in major project work throughout 2018 and 2019.
Pointing to its recent survey in which 47 per cent and 22 per cent of employers across the architecture, engineering and construction sector expected to increase permanent and temporary/contract staff respectively, Hays says it expects demand for workers to remain robust over the second half of the year.
“Australia’s construction industry will remain a strong economic driver throughout the second half of 2018, with continued staffing demand and vacancy activity,” Hays said in its report.
Hotspots of Demand
New South Wales:
With the state’s construction sector firing on all cylinders (civil, commercial and residential), demand for skilled professionals in New South Wales is running hot. Over the year to May, ABS data indicates that the state’s construction sector added almost 24,000 jobs (net), or seven per cent, to its payroll.
In its report, Hays talks of numerous areas of demand hotspots. In particular, there are opportunities for:
- Supervisors, project engineers and estimators with tunnelling, road and rail experience in Sydney
- Production estimators who can accurately estimate material and labour requirements
- Contract administrators, project engineers and site managers with experience in large health, institutional and commercial projects
- Contract administrators with fit-out experience for Sydney office refurbishment projects
- Structural forepersons, who are in short supply amid a solid number of tier two projects
- Pre-construction officers, who are in short supply as too few administrators possess the necessary technical Da/CDC knowledge or understand council requirements
- Contract administrators with commercial and residential experience in the Hunter Valley
- Estimators, for both residential and high-value projects
- Candidates with high-rise residential experience to work on high-rise residential developments in Newcastle and Gosford.
- Project managers with commercial building experience for projects of between $20 million and $50 million in value across Newcastle and the Hunter Region.
Whilst the ACT’s construction workforce has contracted slightly over the past year, its building sector is reasonably busy.
According to Hays, project managers, site managers and contract administrators are needed for residential, health, education and infrastructure projects.
As with New South Wales, Victoria has a busy market across all parts of the construction sector. At 331,200, the sector’s payroll across the state stands at record levels. Over the past three years, the state’s construction payroll has bulged by almost a third, adding almost 80,000 new positions (net).
According to Hays, there is demand for:
- Construction professionals at all levels, from design engineers to delivery engineers on road, tunnel, bridge and rail projects
- Construction Engineers with rail and road experience
- Site forepersons, project engineers and project managers
- Construction staff in general for work on medium density housing projects.
At 26,100, Tasmania’s construction workforce stands at record levels and has grown by more than a quarter over the past two years.
According to Hays, project managers with experience in high-rise construction and civil construction are needed.
Overall, the Queensland market has cooled as the residential building boom in Brisbane has passed its peak. Over the past year, the state has shed 14,300 construction jobs. That said, at 236,600 (May 18), building employment numbers remain well above their levels of 206,000 three years earlier during the low point of the cycle and stand at modest but respectable levels on a historic basis.
According to Hays, areas of demand include:
- Project managers, contract administrators and estimators for work in the residential market, as well as contract administrators and estimators with local commercial experience for work on commercial infrastructure projects in expanding suburbs
- Skilled site managers with commercial construction experience in SE Queensland, along with project managers with experience in commercial projects valued at or around $20 million and general forepersons with local commercial experience
- Civil Project engineers with Main Roads experience who are willing to work on a roster
- Surveyors with 12d experience
- Project managers with water experience in the Gold Coast
- Hydraulic engineers and stormwater engineers with TUFLOW, DRAINS or MIKE experience
- Concreters for infrastructure work
- Horticulturalists with an ACDC ticket, chainsaw ticket and MR licence.
With the state having added 4,200 construction jobs over the year to May and 8,300 over the past two years, there is a reasonable amount of life in South Australia’s construction labour market. The state’s civil and commercial markets are showing signs of life having been subdued in recent years. Residential, whilst cooling, remains reasonably buoyant.
According to Hays, areas of demand include:
- Site engineers, project engineers and project managers with road are rail experience for civil projects in Adelaide. Since tier 1 major projects soak up the best talent, there is a shortage for the remaining projects.
- Civil contract administrators, amid a shortage of strong candidates who wish to remain in the role over the longer term
- Commercial contract administrators and estimators for commercial construction projects – a number of commercial estimators who relocated interstate several years ago have not returned
- Site supervisors and project managers with medium density residential experience along with residential estimators.
With payrolls of just 124,900 in May (down from 144,000 at the same time last year), employment throughout Western Australia’s construction sector is close to its lowest point since before the mining boom.
Nevertheless, Hays talks of demand in some areas, namely:
- Civil construction project managers, contract administrators and intermediate level civil engineers
- Commercial project managers (many of whom have relocated to greener pastures in eastern markets), quantity surveyors and project engineers
- Estimators, following the relocation of some with this skill to eastern markets
- Contract administrators with top-level skills and experience
- Site supervisors with a trade background
- Works managers for regional roles.
As work on the Ichthys project draws toward conclusion and building activity levels remain low, the Northern Territory construction market is quietening and employment levels appear to show few signs of growth having been stagnant for two years.
According to Hays, there is some demand for site managers and project managers on both the contractor and client side as well as contract administrators and estimators.
A shortage in client side project managers has arisen as defence projects stretch local teams.
Employers opt for good enough candidates
According to Donnelly, there has been a shift in employer behaviour over recent years as the job market has tightened and desired candidates are enjoying greater options.
Wind back to the start of the decade and he says a quieter market was more favourable to employers. At the time, employers were being more selective and were conducting intensive diligence to secure the candidate whom they felt had the most suitable technical abilities and the best cultural fit.
Nowadays, however, candidates are looking at multiple opportunities simultaneously. As a result, larger employers are now moving quickly to secure good candidates before they are offered opportunities elsewhere.
As for smaller firms, Donnelly says many still being selective and conducting extensive processes often with multiple interview rounds in order to find the candidate they prefer.
This, he cautions, has seen some firms wait too long.
“There are definitely firms who have waited too long and missed out because their employment processes have taken too long,” Donnelly said.
“They were going through multiple rounds of interviews and getting into the end of the process and finding that the guy that they met first is the one that they want but that guy has got another job or is in eight other (recruitment) processes).”