Australia’s "infrastructure Prime Minister" may be gone but the outlook for construction activity - and thus opportunities for engineers involved in the planning, design and construction of road, rail and port infrastructure - is looking increasingly promising.

While the dollar value of work done in this area has actually fallen by more than a quarter compared with its recent peak in 2012/13 as work on port and rail projects associated with resource sector activity drew to completion, activity within the sector is now expected to rise again. Indeed, at $27.8 billion, it is expected to be more than 50 per cent higher overall in the current financial year compared with levels experienced 10 years ago.

Furthermore, the nature and location of opportunities is shifting as work drops back on railways and harbours in Western Australia but ramps up on road building projects in Queensland and New South Wales. That, recruitment outfit Hays said in its most recent quarterly report, is driving opportunities for consulting firms and engineering professionals alike in terms of skills such as transport engineering, Inroads design, and highway and civil design.

Moreover, the change in Federal leadership is likely to result in a broadening of focus with regard to the type of projects which receive Commonwealth funding. Already, a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment has been appointed and an in-principle agreement has been reached for Commonwealth funding for the Gold Coast Light Rail project – signs the laser-like focus on roads adopted by the previous leadership may be shifting.

Moreover, the unveiling of a $10 billion infrastructure plan on the part of the Federal Opposition, along with plans to allow Infrastructure Australia to form an effective bank to help draw investment from private sector funding, provides the sector with an assurance that nation building will continue to be a federal focus irrespective of what happens in next year’s election.

Transport activity by state

Major Areas of Opportunity

While it is important to bear in mind that these forecasts were issued before the leadership spill and thus are not reflective of the changed policy focus at a Federal level, significant areas of growth and opportunity according to Australian Construction Industry Forum are as follows:

  • Having already risen by more than half over the past six years, activity on roads in New South Wales is set to rise by a further seven per cent this year and go on to reach almost $8 billion by 2019/20 as work on projects such as WestConnex, the upgrade of the Pacific Highway from Woolgoolga to Ballina, the F3 to M2 Orbital Corridor (NorthConnex) and the Badgerys Creek Airport drive activity forward.
  • Having plummeted from a peak of $6.394 billion in 2011/12 to just $3.591 billion in 2014/15, road building activity in Queensland is expected to rise by more than a fifth this year before going on to reach $5.343 billion by 2017/18. Major projects include the Gateway Upgrade North Project at Nudgee and upgrades to the Bruce Highway (Bantassel to Cluden) and the Ipswich Motorway (Darra to Rocklea).
  • Helped along by projects such as the expansion of Sunshine Coast airport and later the new parallel runway at Brisbane airport, activity on non-road transport in Queensland will rise by almost 70 per cent over the next two years.
  • An aggressive program of level crossing removals will see the value of work on bridges, railways and harbours in Victoria grow strongly from $1.178 billion in 2014/15 to $1.546 billion in 2016/17.
  • Already at three times its level 10 years ago, road building activity within the Australian Capital Territory will grow steadily from $244 million in 2014/15 to $303 million in 2017/18 amid work on the Majura Parkway project, the City to the Lake Project and duplication projects on Gundaroo Drive and on the Barton Highway.
  • In terms of employment, Hays says demand is strong for transport engineers, Inroads designers and highway/civil design engineers across most states including New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT.