The engineering and services world is scrambling to attract sufficient talent to service the surge of work on its books in infrastructure, particularly public transport and in buildings.
After several years of slow or even negative growth in the sector big consulting firms such as AECOM and Aurecon say they’re looking offshore to places like the UK and South Africa to meet demand.
Powering the sector right now are government contracts for trains and buses, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, with plenty of building work thrown in.
According to James Rosenwax, AECOM market sector director, cities, the company has in recent times to 1 September had no less than 135 positions to fill in its southern region, mostly Melbourne and Sydney.
It’s a high number, says Rosenwax, and “reflects the level of infrastructure work that is underway in both NSW and Victoria”.
“There is a shortage of skilled professionals in these markets making competition to fill these roles high,” he says.
Recent placements include Steve Dickinson as civil infrastructure quantity surveying leader in Sydney, previously at Oztyke Consulting, Parsons Brinckerhoff and John Holland; Gus Nainu as building services leader in Sydney, previously at Erbas and Associates, WSP Asia Pacific and Donnelly Simpson Cleary; Catherine Hong Zhang, foreign direct investment leader, Australia, previously Great Pacific Financial Group, Macquarie Group and Guangdong Development Bank; and Jason Moore – Construction Services Leader, Sydney, previously at CPB Contractors and Leighton Contractors.
There was $72 billion of transport work in light rail metro and buses, Rosenwax said.
“We’re advertising in the UK. We can’t find enough staff.” Particularly sought after were qualified engineers – “transport engineers, civil engineers and structural engineers”.
“It’s not just infrastructure, but the buildings business is also doing very well.
“We’re in the middle of an infrastructure boom and every integrated infrastructure consultant is working hard to deliver.”
In the building space work included a lot of residential and hospitals. Equally in Melbourne there was plenty of demand in the residential sphere and the expansion of Melbourne Airport.
There was also work on the various “packages” associated with removing railway level crossings in Melbourne.
At Aurecon Jeff Robinson, sustainability expertise leader, was equally upbeat on the work under way. There was now a “nice, really eclectic group of architects, energy engineers and building scientists” in the company’s headquarters and more from the urban design and landscape professions soon joining from South Africa.
Even better, he said, there was a resurgence of interest in sustainability.
There was a surge of interest in One Planet Living standard, the WELL Building Standard and Passive House. At Monash University his company was the services engineer for the TED (Technology Education) building that is being delivered under the Passive House method. The University of Melbourne was also delivering two buildings under PH.
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“Demand is very strong at the moment, not just in infrastructure but in buildings as well,” Robinson said. “There’s a whole load of projects and university projects coming up and a high degree of sustainability in a lot of those.”
The company was handling four WELL projects too, including the Quintessential project at Geelong and potentially for its own headquarters in Brisbane. Two other projects were not yet out for public discussion.
Contrary to the doubters who felt the standard would be short lived in Australia, Robinson said the interest was only growing.
“It’s very, very strong. Everyone we have spoken to sees the value in it.”
Robinson said dominant trends he could identify in the industry were closely tied to performance – exemplified by the recent GRESB results that showed that “we have an industry that is getting better and better”.
“It’s true that having to report year on year on NABERS and with Green Star Performance coming in helps: no one wants to go and report to their management that they’ve got worse this year.”
There was in general a “greater focus on the human experience and what it means to be in green buildings”. And the focus on health and wellbeing had “really captured the zeitgeist”.
“I gave a presentation on this in South Africa and they’re really interested as well.”
Robinson said other indications included the intention by the City of Melbourne, the City of Port Phillip and the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Authority to make Green Star Communities the benchmark at Fishermans Bend.
There was the opportunity now to learn from the poor performance of many high rise towers in Melbourne and strengthen outcomes, he said. Not that good standards did not exist; the point was they were ignored.
Bring back “must” – it’s an important word in standards
“We need to be using the ‘must’ word a little bit more, rather than ‘do it if you feel like it’.”
On this it would be good to see “real leadership”.
He said the City of Melbourne’s new community hub at the Munro site the Queen Victoria Markets redevelopment was another potentially great performer. It would aim to be 5 Star Green Star and also have WELL.
Its inclusions over several levels would be café spaces on the ground level, a “help hub” for the community, artists’ studios, a community kitchen, a “Melbourne room” with an interactive focus and, at the top, a child care centre with outdoor facilities. It would be “really fantastic”, he said.
According to Robinson, the word “sustainability” was back.
It was “definitely okay” to use the word sustainability again. Sustainability Victoria is starting to have a greater level of prominence, and the building industry is turning to One Planet and WELL “because they realise they need to amp it up a bit”.
“It’s a sign of the maturing market and people saying there’s got to be something more than this.
“There’s a very active community in Melbourne with people who really want to make a difference.”