Australia’s leaders have committed billions to infrastructure as part of economic recovery plans for COVID-19. However the task, and cost, of managing that infrastructure doesn’t end once it is built.
The country is facing a shortage of skilled practitioners with the know-how to maintain critical infrastructure such as sewage, bridges and roads, according to peak body the Institute for Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA).
In 2021, Local Government NSW, found that 80 per cent of NSW councils were experiencing shortages across key professions including asset management, engineering and planning.
In response to $17 billion of government infrastructure spending announced in the last federal budget, the IPWEA developed an educational pathway to train new asset managers or upskill those already in the field.
“It’s critical for the viability and safety of our community assets such as roads, bridges, parks sewage works and other key infrastructure projects, that qualified people are managing these projects throughout their lifespan,” IPWEA chief executive David Jenkins said.
“The rhetoric around infrastructure needs to change – it is people, skills and education which are at the core of infrastructure stimulus package being successful, for now and over the long term.”
Mr Jenkins told The Fifth Estate, his organisation hoped to train asset managers with sustainable practices in mind and that overall the industry was becoming more conscious of sustainability and looking to adapt assets across all stages of their lifecycle.
“As the construction and maintenance of infrastructure has been a significant source of carbon emissions and uses large amounts of increasingly limited resources, it is vital that asset managers are provided with rigorous guidance on how to design, build and maintain environmentally and financially sustainable assets,” he said.
While currently the organisation’s educational resources on coping with and planning for climate change are limited, Jenkins said they will soon be updated to include a section specifically on climate resilient materials, including selecting for sustainability outcomes.
With steel and concrete two of the most common materials used in developing infrastructure, embodied carbon can be high and all up infrastructure is responsible for around 15 per cent of Australia’s emissions.
Mr Jenkins said “work was needed to strengthen sustainability regulations to reduce embodied carbon, water use and waste and to enhance energy efficiency and circular economy options.”
The longer term impact of climate change on assets is also being increasingly understood by those who manage them.
All infrastructure assets are vulnerable to climate change in some way or another, from storms, bushfires and floods, to heat effects, higher sea levels and increased humidity.
These effects of climate change hold the potential to reduce the lifespan of infrastructure assets, or render them obsolete completely, both of which can result in wasted resources and the creation of even more emissions.
IPWEA’ three step approach to adapting infrastructure for climate change, contained in one of their training modules, is Accommodate, Protect and Retreat.
The first involves designing for higher temperatures and taking measures such as increasing airflow where possible or increasing the size or number of expansion joints in concrete structures for instance.
Secondly protecting infrastructure could mean applying light coloured paint to reflect heat, insulating buildings or shading walkways. And finally, retreat would mean shifting the location of a particular asset, for instance in doors or to a space that is cooler.
“The industry recognises the ongoing skills shortage challenge is likely to worsen post pandemic and the need for qualified and skilled people who not only understand but can apply the key fundamentals of good asset management will be in high demand,” Mr Jenkins said.
“The industry is working hard to ensure the environmental, economic, and social sustainability outcomes are delivered at a price the community can afford.”
Having spent close to a decade with engineering company AECOM, Justine Kinch has switched to the public sector, joining Transport NSW as Western Parkland city director.
The development of Sydney’s Western Parkland is an ongoing initiative associated with the establishment of the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis, with a population projected to grow from 740,000 in 2016 to 1.1 million by 2036.
Ms Kinch will have a big job ahead of her overseeing the establishment of road and rail links as the city expands and the transport, manufacturing and residential hub grows in significance.
Mathuran Marianayagam from Cundall has become the first person to hold concurrent accreditations from the Association of Energy Engineers, of certified energy auditor and manager.
Certified energy auditors are specifically trained in conducting energy efficiency assessments of building systems, occupancy patterns, operations, maintenance requirements, and code compliance to cost-effectively optimise energy performance.
Our pick of the jobs
The Nature Conservancy is seeking someone with a love for the environment to take on the role of nature and agricultural landscapes manager.
Serving as a principal contact to government agencies and other organisations, the role is key to establishing long-term conservation strategies, building strategic, scientific, and technical capacity in the field and developing key partnerships.
The scope of the position covers five projects in the Nature and Agricultural Landscapes Program: the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund, the Great Cumbung, Gayini Nimmie-Caira, the Sustainable Water Impact Fund and the Farmland to Reef Regeneration Fund.
And finally, Mildura Rural City Council is looking for someone to drive large scale environmental change as an energy and water innovation officer.
Situated on the Murray River in North West Victoria, the Council describes itself as dedicated to a zero net emissions future.
You will be responsible for initiating and managing energy and water consumption and greenhouse emission reduction projects across an area encapsulating roughly 10 per cent of Victoria.
They’re not picky, just looking for someone with a qualification in engineering or construction and some understanding or experience of project management, water management and/or energy auditing.