Schools have emerged as a focal point for promoting construction and economic growth in South Australia, as the government pins its political hopes on a program of investment designed to stimulate economic activity and train students for the future in critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

In its latest budget, South Australian government unveiled a $500 million program of investment in new education facilities.

Of this,$250 million will be spent upgrading laboratories catering for STEM related subjects at 139 schools across regional and metropolitan areas, with funding to go to 77 primary schools, 44 high schools and 18 R-12 schools.

A further $250 million will be set up as a low interest loan facility which will be made available over the next five years to private schools for the purpose of investing in and upgrading their facilities.

The latest investments are welcome news for the state’s construction sector, which has shed 10,200 jobs or nearly 15 percent of its workforce over the past three years notwithstanding a recent upswing in residential building amid subdued commercial building activity and a pull-back in resource related investment.

Whilst building approval numbers have been encouraging of late, activity is mainly centered around the statistically volatile multi-residential sector, and home building level at any rate are well below levels experienced during the second half of last decade.

Not helping the building sector are broader weakness in the general economy, which has grown by less than two percent over the past year and is expected to be impacted going forward by a continued fall back in resource related investment, the withdrawal of the automotive manufacturing sector and difficulties in other sectors such as steel manufacturing.

Other features of the budget from a construction sector perspective include:

  • $24.8 million over four years to support the government’s plan of reforming the planning system, including through an online planning platform
  • $109 million worth of small business grants of up to $10,000 over two years each time a new full time equivalent job for small and medium sized enterprises which are liable for payroll tax in South Australia and of up to $4,000 over the same period for creation of new roles of up to 22 hours or more in businesses which are not liable for payroll tax.
  • The extension of the payroll tax rebate for small businesses for up to four years.
  • A one-year extension to the stamp duty exemption for off-the plan purchases.

In a statement, the government said the upgrades will not only deliver significant gains in terms of construction jobs but will assist students to gain the skills necessary to take advantage of opportunities such as the future submarine program.

“It is the children and students in school today that will be working on the high-tech defence build that South Australia will undertake across the next 50 years,” state treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said.

“Engineering, welders, designers, computer technicians; these are the jobs we will need in a more modern economy.”

“As South Australia transforms, so should our skillset. And that starts in our schools.”

The Master Builders Association of South Australia said the new investment in schools would provide opportunities for builders even though the budget did not contain any major big ticket investment items such as new hospitals or sporting facilities.