Meeting the demand and supply of civil construction skills

by Sonya Casey, Project Officer – Training, Civil Contractors Federation (CCF)

There is no doubt that the civil industry in Victoria is experiencing significant challenges, and there are many reports that provide evidence and statistical data validating the urgent need to put in place a civil industry workforce development plan.

A snapshot of known challenges for civil construction businesses are: engaging as a subcontractor to deliver major infrastructure projects, recruiting skilled equipment operators, supervisors and entry level workers, and maintaining legislated compliance and reporting requirements.

CCF Victoria, has investigated past recruitment, training delivery and assessment practices. Based on our research findings and member feedback on the immediate need for adequately trained workers, CCF has designed and is ready to implement a series of targeted skills development programs.

This is an opportunity to build on current civil skill development programs, to inject these programs with learning experiences and assessment activities that directly relate to the realities of the civil worksite.

Victoria’s 30 Year Infrastructure Strategy states, “By 2046, we see a thriving, connected and sustainable Victoria where everyone can access good jobs, education and services. In 30 years’ time, the state will look very different. We can’t tell what the future holds, but we know that the performance of infrastructure across all sectors will shape Victoria’s society, economy and environment.”

As indicated by the comments above, the future for a career in civil construction is positive. We need to create the aspiration and present a positive civil construction development pathway for those interested. In addition, we need to grasp the opportunity to improve the profile of civil construction as a career.

Impact on small to medium sized organisations
Our 2018 Victoria Infrastructure Outlook Report, Implications and Challenges – A Victorian and National Perspective, states, “From a Victorian perspective, the infrastructure task is high over the next five years, and challenges can lead from rising costs of construction, particularly since the construction phase within the state coincides with rising construction activity nationally.

“A need to employ skilled staff during this period will be a challenge particularly when skill transferability is limited and the demand for certain skill set increases within the industry during heightened periods of activity.”

The civil construction industry is a complex sector. Experienced and well-resourced Tier One contractors are grappling with the significant and accelerating demand for entry level workers, supervisors and experienced operators.

This has a “knock on” effect for small to medium sized (SME) organisations who are subcontracting to these Tier One contractors who are also placed under incredible pressure to deliver targeted apprentice/trainee results.

Many SMEs do not have the level of experience and internal administrative resources to cope with the demand of recruiting entry level workers or operators as required. There are thousands of workers required to work on current and projected infrastructure projects in Victoria.

Demand for Technology skills
The rate of innovation in the civil industry is gathering pace. This is largely dominated by new processes and equipment.

Alongside new techniques, automation, robotics, remote operations centres, use of drone technology, increased use of GPS, and increased use of data in monitoring operations, are all key features of innovation in the civil sector.

This will impact on the skills required for the civil industry and create an increased demand for technology skills and competencies to use the latest equipment. Applications of technology are becoming more evident in the civil industry worksite.

Past approaches to delivering training have been mostly traditional. The updated design will take into consideration younger generations expectations and modes of learning, the effectiveness and efficiency of time committed to developing new skills and the balance between on the job and intensive workshop session learning activities.

For the civil sector, an innovative approach is to shift from classroom based, “chalk and talk”, theory only examinations and separate practical demonstration, to a blended approach. For example, a blended approach could incorporate technology platforms, eLearning packages, workplace experiences and mentoring.  One size does not fit all situations.

CCF Victoria has developed a skills development program titled the Civil Skills Cadetship Program (CSC Program).

This is the baseline program from which skills development activities are linked. For example, Civil Career school information, Taster Program, Youth Job PaTH, apprenticeship programs and engineering graduate placements are linked to the four stages of the CSC Program.

Through the CSC Program, CCF Victoria is presenting a major change to the way “things have always been done”. It is a significant advancement to workforce development methods in the civil sector, with structured recruitment and selection processes, and the integration of technology platforms that are proven to add value through creating engagement with participants.

Simulators and virtual reality have been used, however, not built into program assessment requirements. Individuals are empowered through the use of technology, with learning and connecting with others.

The CSC Program is designed to encourage entry level workers to take up an opportunity for a career in the civil construction industry.

The CSC Program is a four-stage approach which delivers to participants career support, induction to the construction industry, cross industry competencies, civil construction core competencies, worksite experience, industry mentor assistance and learning experiences that are integrated throughout the program.

Industry program to entice new workers
Using the CSC Program design as a baseline, CCF Victoria and the Department of Jobs and Small Business have partnered to offer a Youth Jobs PaTH internship program. This program targets young people, aged between 15 to 24 with an interest to enter the civil industry.

Recruitment, screening and selection of participants is carried out in consultation with civil employers. Participants will be provided with a “warts and all” induction to what it’s like to work in the civil industry.

This is followed by a 10-day intensive program with participants completing cross industry units of competency. The participants are then available to be placed as an intern with a civil industry employer. If the intern is the right fit for the business, the employer may decide to offer employment. The business could be eligible for a youth bonus wage subsidy.

The first of the Youth Job PaTH programs for civil construction kicked off in May 2018.

In Our Captivating History, The First 50 Years of AERCF Victoria (1943– 1993) writer and compiler, Graeme Moore, in 1973, stated, “Lack of organised training for plant operators remained a problem within the industry.

A letter was sent to the Minister for Defence suggesting that unused army equipment could be used for this purpose and army personnel employed as instructors. We are not quite sure how the Minister viewed this request as we did not receive a reply to our letter”.

Reflecting on the above excerpt, it could be assumed that not a lot has changed. The demand and supply of skilled civil construction workers was a problem in 1973 and is currently a challenge in 2018.

All stakeholders involved with Victoria’s major infrastructure projects should be encouraged to work together.

Led by the civil industry, CCF Victoria has designed a meaningful foundation and agile skills development program, known as CSC Program.

This program reflects the complexities of the civil construction industry. It sets the scene and supports each individual to achieve successful outcomes, as they travel on the civil construction career pathway.

About Civil Contractors Federation (CCF)
Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) is a peak industry body representing Australia’s civil construction industry with more than 2,000 contractor and associate members nationally and over 520 of these based in Victoria.

CCF Members are responsible for the construction and maintenance of Australia’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, pipelines, drainage, ports and utilities.

Our members also play a vital role in the residential and commercial building industry by providing earthmoving and land development services including the provision of power, water, communications and gas.

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