by Peter Colacino, Chief of Policy and Research, Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure planning, decision-making and delivery consistently falls short of best practice in Australia.

Procurement and contracting arrangements are driving poor investment outcomes, a lack of project coordination is creating capacity constraints, and the potential of digital transformation remains unharnessed.

Our national sector is one of only a handful with declining productivity. It has amongst the lowest rates of technology and digital adoption, the highest rates of suicide and, with only 12 per cent women, has the lowest rate of female participation of any sector in Australia.

Declining productivity, cost overruns, skills and resource gaps, declining profitability, and growing insolvency are just some of the immediate challenges underpinning the burning platform for infrastructure transformation.

With a record $225 billion in major infrastructure investments committed by governments across the country between now and 2023-24, as well as investments being planned and delivered by the private sector, it is vital that infrastructure is planned, sequenced, procured and delivered effectively to ensure we reap the economic and social benefits.

To that end, Infrastructure Australia recently released Delivering Outcomes, a 10-year road map to a more productive and resilient future for our industry. It is a comprehensive action plan, supported by the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan and 2021 Infrastructure Market Capacity Report.

The power of collaboration

Reform is necessary for our sector to be able to withstand disruptions, be financially flexible and resilient, and continue providing the high quality infrastructure that communities expect.

Our recommendations are informed by extensive industry engagement and focus on seven key areas – outcomes for people and places; systems; digital transformation; collaboration and integration; commercial alignment and optimisation; innovation, and people wellbeing and resilience.

If adopted, the reforms in Delivering Outcomes will improve the sector’s productivity and resilience by lifting capacity and capability, promoting innovation, and embedding sustainability.

For reform in these areas to be accepted and successful, we must be committed to change, especially changing behaviours, to build respect and the conditions that encourage collaboration.

We need to work together, and industry is critical in driving this sector-wide reform. People are the foundation for any successful business and a flourishing infrastructure sector. If we always do what we’ve always done, 105,000 roles will go unfilled over the next four years.

We need to attract more people to our industry by being fair, diverse, and inclusive. We must establish workplaces where everyone has equivalent access to resources, opportunities, career progression, rewards and benefits.

This powerful trio – equality, diversity and inclusion – helps create high-performing, innovative and supportive work environments where creativity, problem-solving and decision-making increase.

The Culture Standard, led by the Australian Constructors Association and the New South Wales and Victorian governments, with its focus on wellbeing, time for life and diversity, provides a framework for how industry can support a positive cultural shift in our sector.

The case for greater diversity is clear

Genuinely diverse and inclusive workplaces consistently report higher people engagement, resilience, productivity and performance. By taking deliberate and meaningful steps to address the working needs of women, for example, we can unlock additional capacity to deliver the record infrastructure pipeline and support Australia’s long-term prosperity.

We want to see a proactive and systemic approach to achieving health, safety and wellbeing outcomes adopted across the sector. To attract and nurture a diverse and inclusive workforce, organisations need to establish and systematically pursue targets around equality, diversity and inclusion.

The Australian Constructors Association, Consult Australia, Australasian Railway Association, Civil Contractors Federation and Roads Australia are some of the organisations lending their voice to support the need for a step change in our culture and increased diversity across the sector.

Industry leaders need to champion equality, diversity, and inclusion across the infrastructure sector. The infrastructure sector is known as ‘a hard place to work’ and we know that cultural change is needed.

Everyone – regardless of their background, religion, culture, age, gender and other differences – is welcome in infrastructure.

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