Professionals across the engineering and construction sector in Queensland and New South Wales will continue to enjoy significant demand for their services as opportunities on major infrastructure projects continue to ramp up, according to a report which focuses on the two aforementioned states.
In its latest report, recruitment firm CGC Recruitment has analysed current labour market conditions and near-term prospects for professional staff across construction, engineering/architecture, infrastructure and project management.
The report focuses on CGCs core markets of Queensland and New South Wales.
At a broad economy level, CGC notes that the jobs market in Australia has recovered following an initial COVID shock in 2020.
For construction and engineering specifically, it says demand for professionals has been driven by government incentives along with a massive pipeline of works.
This, it notes, has seen job vacancies for such professionals rise back to above pre-COVID levels across both aforementioned locations.
“… for our industries, over the year we saw a significant increase in government stimulus and major projects, creating substantial demand for engineers and construction professionals,” CGC said in its report.
“Since January, demand has grown further as major projects have come online and large multi-national clients have lifted their hiring freezes. This has led to a rise in job vacancies in CGC’s core locations (Queensland/NSW) across all markets.
“Whilst Brisbane has increased steadily, there has been a significant jump in Sydney, with (vacancies in) both locations exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”
Going forward, CGC expects market conditions to tighten further.
This will lead to further pressure on salaries and greater emphasis on contract work.
“Nationally, across all infrastructure, construction, engineering, and architecture sectors, and as the Government’s four-phase roadmap (based on the Doherty Institute’s modelling) kicks in, we expect to see continued recruitment demand at all levels …,” CGC said.
“… We expect salaries to continue to rise and to see a shift towards a contract workforce as skills become scarcer, employers get creative, and candidates seek to maximise their earning potential on an hourly/daily rate.”
Across each sector, the outlook according to CGC is as set out below.
Leading the way is infrastructure, where average salaries for roles placed by CGR have risen by more than 15 percent over the past year amid a massive shortage of skilled workers.
This has arisen as the closure of international borders and shutdown of international migration has coincided with the ramping up of work on projects such as WestConnex, Sydney Gateway, Sydney Metro, the M6 project, and Western Sydney Airport.
This has led to significant demand for engineers across all levels for major projects as well as smaller works of up to $20 million.
Whilst employer preference centres around candidates with experience delivering projects of similar dollar values, tier one employers are adopting greater flexibility in terms of experience requirements.
Among mid-tier contractors, meanwhile, preferences revolve around local candidates with experience in smaller projects.
Looking ahead, CGS sees opportunities across water, roads and rail.
Medium term, clients will have scope to offer asset management, maintenance and operations services as newly built assets reach completion.
From candidates, this will open up new opportunities for engineers, commercial managers and operations staff.
Engineering and Architecture
Also strong will be the engineering/architecture sector, where CGC says a talent shortage will hit hard as closed borders continue to impact migration and the coming financial year is one of the busiest the infrastructure sector has ever seen.
Across Sydney and NSW in particular, a massive shortage of engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers and commercial managers will emerge as large-scale projects continue to ramp up.
This will be compounded by temporary and overseas workers returning home due to COVID as well as domestic candidates taking up offshore opportunities when borders reopen.
For companies delivering these projects, CGC says severe challenges lie ahead from a skills/human resourcing perspective.
Indeed, many may find they need to fill roles with candidates whose qualifications and experience is less extensive compared with what is ideally sought.
In addition, salaries are likely to rise further. Already, CGC says professionals who are being headhunted are being offered generous pay increases along with counteroffers from existing employers.
In addition to road and rail projects, there is considerable activity in sectors such as data centres, cyber security and defence – the latter a growing area as the defence budget is rising.
Overall, CGC says hiring will be evenly split across multiple skill sets and will be geared toward ensuring that companies are able to deliver upon the pipeline of work which they have secured.
In construction, CGC says an upward trend has taken hold across the board following a patchy period in the twelve months after the pandemic hit.
This, it says, will continue going into FY 2022.
Driving the market will be significant developments such as Western Sydney Airport and the Metro stations and over land development.
Government education investment will also continue to keep the modular builders busy.
With this in mind, CGC says the talent pool is set to decline and salaries will rise – albeit with the extent of this being limited on account of cost pressures in other areas such as material costs.
Demand is strong for project engineers, senior contract administrators and experienced project manages.
Going forward, CGC expects this to continue and also expects demand to also grow for site managers, forepersons and safety personnel.
To manage, the recruitment firm says attracting and retaining suitable talent will require competitive salaries, a strong company pitch, training and development and a flexible workforce.
Employers should also be open to sponsorship as a talent acquisition route.
Opportunities here could be presented through the Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom, CGC suggests.
Project Management Consulting and Development
Finally, the project management, consulting and development segment has been one of the more interesting in terms of the market for built environment professionals, CGC says,
After COVID hit, the market went quiet last year as developer hesitancy saw new project awards dry up.
After Christmas, however, the market turned as confidence had returned, restrictions had been lifted and workers had begun returning to the CBD.
This created a need for additional headcount on the part of developers and project management firms.
Going forward, CGC says the market will remain on an upward trajectory with a consistent project flow which will be spearheaded by several large projects as they pass through respective stages These include the $12 billion Sydney Metro project, Western Sydney Airport, and the $2.9 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan.
As is the case with other sectors, activity in this sector is expected to drive a shortage of candidates and a favourable market for those with suitable skills.
Many companies who are hiring are looking to expand into new verticals and are seeking to onboard candidates who possess strong business development abilities and whose skills sets are varied and adaptable.
Employers Must Work Harder to Attract Candidates
With challenges ahead, CGC warns that companies will need to work harder to attract and retain suitable staff.
Recommended strategies include greater emphasis on training and career development, a strategic approach to acquiring top candidates and use of culture and non-financial rewards to maintain a reputation as an employer of choice.
“A challenge for management teams will be managing workloads in the skill-short market, increasingly with a blended workforce of permanent and contract staff, many working full or part-time from home,” the report said.
“Companies need to particularly focus on retaining and incentivising existing staff through offering training and career paths.
“To capitalise on opportunities, another key focus for many companies is strategically acquiring top candidates who possess the business-building skills to help them enter new markets. In the current market, this increasingly necessitates identifying and developing talent outside core sectors.
“With ongoing uncertainty over borders, we do not anticipate a significant influx of candidates from overseas this year.
“Differentiating your culture and non-financial rewards from competitors will be key to attracting candidates in this competitive market.”