Despite long-standing concerns about the potential impact of the mining boom’s demise upon Australian construction, the building sector is currently witnessing a “war for talent” as companies strive to make up for a shortfall in skilled personnel.
According to Laura Durkan, head of human resources for Richard Crookes Constructions, a boom in construction projects on the eastern coast in tandem with a shortage of skilled talent has created intense competition for capable on-site personnel.
“At the moment, the construction industry is doing quite well and there’s a lot of work on,” said Durkan, who is scheduled to be a guest speaker at Sydney Build 2016 in March. “Lots of companies have obtained lots of contracts and there’s a real need to get these jobs delivered. That’s what’s really at the heart of the fierce competition (for) highly skilled people in the construction industry at the moment.
Durkan said that competition is currently at its most intense for skilled, on-site staff.
“Certainly in the area of site management, site engineering - all of the site-based roles such as foreman, we’re seeing a great deal of competition and a real lack of quality personnel,” she said. “It’s really at the talented end of the spectrum – there’s a lot of non-talent going around that’s easy to attract, but it’s the really talented people that people are competing for.
“We’ve certainly got a lot of people phoning up asking for really talented people and offering very large salaries to attract them away."
In terms of the geographic focus of demand within Australia for skilled construction personnel, Durkan pointed in particular to the major states situated along the country’s eastern coast.
“[The demand] is predominately NSW at the moment, but there’s also quite strong demand in Victoria and also potentially in the more skilled areas of the blue collar workforce, such as carpentry, in Queensland,” she said.
According to Durkan, the ongoing shortage of skilled on-site building personnel should prompt consideration within Australia about how the country obtains and cultivates members of the construction industry workforce.
“I think as the war for talent gets greater we need to think more broadly about where we source our talent, and how we source our talent,” she said.
Durkan advocates transitioning to a system in which a greater amount of “raw talent” with promise is taken on board for projects and trained up by employers and recruiters.
“We should really do a solid analysis of where the talent is located and needed across the industries, and maybe take on an approach where you perhaps attract raw talent instead of fully-fledged people," she said.
“It’s about saying potentially that that person hasn’t worked in this industry before, but they’ve got some really good raw talent in terms of their design expertise, or they’ve got an engineering background, and taking a chance on them - bringing them in and training them up, with really good mentors to try to bridge the gap.”
Durkan said this model of talent sourcing has already proven successful in certain areas, adding that it could go a long way toward solving the shortfall in skilled construction workers.
“We’ve recently just done that in a couple of spaces and it’s working out quite well," she said. "It could help to bring more people into an industry as well, because it’s still not the most attractive industry to some.”