Report underscores need for government-industry collaboration on major infrastructure works

A recently published report forecasts a surge in demand for skills, labour and materials due to the rapid increase in public infrastructure investment.

Infrastructure Australia has published its first Infrastructure Market Capacity report which responds to a request from the Council of Australian Governments in March 2020 for the agency to regularly report on the capacity of the market to deliver on the record investment pipeline.

“The Infrastructure Market Capacity report is an Australian-first and a new data capability for Infrastructure Australia,” said Infrastructure Australia CEO, Romilly Madew.

“It provides a level of visibility of the major project pipeline and resulting demand for skills, labour and materials that governments have not had until now.

“Major public infrastructure activity will approximately double over the next three years, peaking at $52 billion in 2023. This record investment creates new opportunities for local business and employment, however also risks constraints in the capacity of the market to meet this growth in investment.

“In mid-2023 the employment in the infrastructure sector will need to grow from 183,000 people today to more than 288,000 potential shortfall in jobs being filled is forecast to exceed 105,000, with one in three jobs advertised going unfilled. This presents an opportunity for further employment, but there is also a risk these roles will be unfilled.”

A key finding of the report forecast average annual growth rate of 33 per cent as industry reports reduced confidence in their capacity to deliver on-time and on-budget.

Also, demand for plant, labour, equipment, and materials will be two-thirds higher than the previous five years.

Over the next three years it is expected there will be 120 per cent average growth in demand for materials, 125 per cent growth in demand for equipment and 140 per cent growth in demand for plant.

The peak of demand for skills is reported to be 48 per cent higher than supply. Meeting this demand would require annual growth of 25 per cent over the next two years, which is more than eight times higher than the projected annual growth rate of 3.3 per cent.

Thirty-four of the 50 public infrastructure occupations identified are potentially in shortage.

“This research further underscores the need for a coordinated project pipeline to manage capacity constraints and provide confidence and certainty for both industry and government,” said Madew.

“While infrastructure investment is rightfully a key component of our national Covid-19 recovery, we need to ensure we are equipped to deliver this once in a generation infrastructure spend.

“The challenge of driving a step-change in infrastructure productivity and innovation is a shared one – it cannot be solved by governments or industry alone.”

Infrastructure Australia’s role is to work collaboratively alongside government, industry, and the community to provide advice on the reforms and investment needed in the infrastructure sector.

The 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, released last month, provides a practical and actionable reform agenda to address the challenges highlighted in the Infrastructure Market Capacity report.

The inaugural report is focused on major public infrastructure pipeline (transport, utilities and building infrastructure), for investments over $50 million for Tasmania, Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory and over $100 million for all other states.

This inaugural report also represents the first phase of work in Infrastructure Australia’s ongoing Market Capacity Program that will monitor and report on the capacity of the market.

A second phase of the Market Capacity Program is now under development for publication in the first half of 2022.