Major public infrastructure activity will double in the next three years but Australia risks not having the workforce or materials to deliver it.
Infrastructure Australia, an independent government adviser, predicts that by mid-2023 more than 105,000 jobs could go unfilled as governments attempt to deliver big infrastructure agendas worth $218 billion in the next five years.
A report released Tuesday expects peak shortages of 70,000 engineers, scientists and architects; 15,000 structural and civil trades; and 19,000 project management professionals.
The impact could be worse in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland, which the report anticipates will need workforces twice their current sizes.
Infrastructure Australia chief Romilly Madew supported governments spending on projects as part of the national COVID-19 recovery but said the nation needed to be equipped to manage and deliver the work.
“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,” Ms Madew said.
The report highlights border closures have played a role in looming skills shortages and suggests migration will address some of the challenges.
“However, even with migration playing a significant role, access to some skills, such as to civil engineers, are still likely to be inadequate,” the report says.
“This is due to the global nature of the talent pool, and strong global demand for these skills as countries around the world leverage infrastructure as part of post-COVID stimulus strategies.”
Pressure on supply for materials, plant and equipment is also due to rise, with the average demand for materials expected to be 30% more between 2021 and 2023.
The report suggests good management can smooth the project pipeline, that better front-end engineering and design can improve investment decision-making and risk management, and that increased collaboration between government and industry is needed to grow capacity and capability.
“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,” Madew said.
The report also calls for increased public sector capacity and capability to “recognise the legitimate, but differing roles of each level of government in the delivery of the infrastructure pipeline”.
The research, coined Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Market Capacity report, is the first time the agency has provided a comprehensive understanding of the supply and demand of the skills and materials needed to deliver Australia’s infrastructure pipeline.
It will be launched virtually on Wednesday at 11.30am.