The infrastructure boom is creating serious skills shortages and this is challenging one company to find new ways of prepping Australia’s future work force.

According to Jon Prior, business development partnerships manager at the NSW Business Chamber, the skills shortage in Australia is so severe it’s draining talent from other sectors, including mechanics, pastry chefs, abattoirs.

Prior says in NSW alone almost $90 billion will be spent on infrastructure projects in the next four years.

He says this is “unchartered territory” and no state has ever committed to this much construction in such a short period of time.

It doesn’t help that a big chunk of the construction workforce is nearing retirement age and there’s a struggle to fill entry level roles.

To meet this skills shortage, some governments are investing in TAFE and education programs. The recently re-elected Berejiklian government, for example, is funding nearly 700,000 free TAFE and vocational education and training courses over the next four years.

The state government also committed $80 million towards a new “mega-TAFE” near the forthcoming Western Sydney Airport.

But according to Prior, access to courses and training is not the only issue. He says another reason people aren’t going into careers in construction is because young people largely feel pressured to go to university, according to a recent survey conducted by the business organisation.

Oops forgot to skill up on punctuality, accepting criticism and staying off the phone 

Another reason is that young people tend to lack “basic work ready skills” – such as punctuality, accepting criticism and “staying off their mobile phones.”

Prior says it doesn’t help that when industry relays this message to schools, teachers respond by teaching young people to handle tools when what they really need is basic work ethics.

Bootcamps prepping young people for the shock of physical labour

This is one reason why the chamber is supporting a pre-apprenticeship “bootcamp” program run by ex-construction manager, Paul Breen.

Breen set up Productivity Force after observing that a lot of young people with trade qualifications were dropping out of construction roles early. He felt that a lot of training courses were failing young people because they weren’t prepared for the realities of an apprenticeship.

This is when decided to start training aspiring construction workers skills such as resilience and time management through an eight-week intensive on-the-job training program.

“It’s about prepping. Every apprentice has to learn to labour… work fitness is a whole lot different work fitness to sport fitness and young people often aren’t ready for it.

“And the employer wants to know that have a worker that turns up on time, who is keen.”

The program also exposes young people to different industries, such as metal fabrication and bricklaying, so they can get a better idea about what to expect and make a suitable choice.

Breen says the program has been met with enthusiasm. Some industries that are struggling to attract young workers are even funding mock-up work stations to expose workers to careers they may not have thought about otherwise.

So far, the program has had an 87 per cent success rate with most graduates going on to full-time work in construction. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has pledged to establish and support two more productivity bootcamp centres, one in western Sydney and one on the South Coast.

Creator of Productivity Force, Paul Breen

The biggest shortages of young workers are in civil

Breen says that although most of the jobs are in civil construction, it’s hard to get traction in these Companies are afraid to take on young people because it’s “too risky to be worried about them”, he says.

But one avenue to introduce young people to civil construction is through off site pre-casting, he says.

Another important role of the program is to ensure young people are prepared to adapt to new technologies as industries continue to innovate rapidly.

Breen is also staying abreast of new developments in the industry so young workers aren’t funnelled into careers that will soon become redundant.

It’s a different generation that needs to be treated differently

Breen says that the younger generation are “wired differently”

“We can’t train young people the way we were trained 20 years – there’s social media and computer games – they are used to constant recognition.

“They crave to do something that they are proud of and is done right. That really lifts their spirits.”

He says there’s huge opportunities in gamification and learning through digital tools such as YouTube.

“A smart company is one that puts tasks on YouTube, such as how you hang a door,” he says.

“They will be a powerful workforce, and productive. They won’t walk away from a job.”

He says although it might sound like hard work for companies, “it’s easy once you get to understand [the younger generation].”

“When you do spend the 15 mins a day setting them up and feeling great about how they are going – you get loyalty and a good work ethic.”

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  1. Great article Fifth Estate, this conversation is just warming up. At a launch of CSIRO’s publication on the Digital economy yesterday, Labour’s Ed Husic spoke to the need for ‘new collar’ workers to move on from the previous limitations of ‘blue collar’ v ‘white collar’ workers. I will be preparing a report on this for Fifth Estate next week. Finally some leadership in this important construction conversation. This conversation is a big missing piece in the ‘Building Confidence Report’ for the Building Minister’s Forum. It’s a pity that the mainstream media have accepted the Building Confidence Report and various state responses as being the full picture as opposed to being the tip of the iceberg.