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Construction jobs market faces bright future

By: Stephanie McDonald
24 January, 2011

In 2009, the full brunt of the global financial crisis (GFC) hit.

Although Australia was somewhat insulated from its effects compared to the rest of the world, construction here still suffered.

Contrary to assumed wisdom, construction jobs were considerably affected by the GFC. Some staff were laid off, while others took a cut on their full-time role to a part-time position.

With construction predicted to pick up from the middle of 2011, the skills shortage is a looming problem. Historically, Australia has struggled to provide solutions for skills shortages, with a short-term fix of bringing in overseas labour.

David Marriott, director at Constructive Recruitment, has been witness to the ups and downs of construction jobs over the past eight years, recruiting primarily in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne.

Marriott says if Australia is to meet construction supply with labour demand, the 457 visa issue needs to be addressed by the government, with the laws surrounding the visa relaxed.

"The industry has got some very good people that have been dragged into going overseas and going to Dubai and spending a bit of time over there or going to Europe and the UK…which forces a bit of an issue down here where we’re struggling to keep up with supply," Marriott said.

The mining boom in Western Australia has also drained staff from the east coast of Australia, with many moving to the western state for more lucrative remuneration.

However, Wayne Golledge, managing director of Impact Group, says the past 12 months have also brought opportunities for staff changes.

"We’ve still found some good staff over the last 12 months and I’ve had the opportunity to get rid of some staff that weren’t appropriate or not as strong performance wise," Golledge said.

This opportunity meant considerable staff turnover for the company, which Golledge says has not been typical over Impact Group’s 11 years.

In the past 12 months, 14 staff have moved on and 12 new staff have joined. Golledge says he was also able to "cherry pick" good staff, however, the pool of skilled project managers is small.

Some states will fare better than others when it comes to construction jobs. Marriott says Western Australia will be one of the busiest states for construction and will also be home to a booming energy and mining sector, making it easier for construction personnel to find jobs in the region.

Marriott says Melbourne will also experience growth, as will Brisbane.

"But as far as people coming into the industry and getting a job in construction, I think if they were to look at NSW, it would probably be the hardest state, Marriott said.

"I still think it’s not been as buoyant as we hoped over the last 12 months."

If you’re an estimator, project manager or foreman, the good news is those jobs are always in demand, particularly at the senior level with tertiary qualifications.

"Getting good senior people at a construction manager/director level, estimators or commercial managers, those salaries will increase quite a bit," according to Marriott.

Construction salaries have largely remained untouched in the past five years, although Marriott claims some salaries have risen around 20% over the period.

"If we have a very good candidate that a client is looking to employ, I’m sure they’ll pay that extra $10,000 or $15,000 to get somebody onboard that’s going to make a difference to their business," Marriott said.

He predicts demand will force construction salaries up by around 20% over the next five years as confidence in the economy returns.

His advice for employers and candidates is that cultural fit is still important, as is training and career growth for employees.

"For candidates coming through, they need to make sure that they’re moving or joining a company for the right reasons and it’s not just for monetary reasons and it’s the bigger picture," Marriott said.

"For example, what training is provided? What’s the culture of the business? What kind of projects does that business have that are going to make a difference to that person and keep them motivated?"

For companies like Impact Group, the next few years look optimistic. Golledge is currently working on a five-year business plan and expects significant growth for 2011 and beyond.

"We already predict we’re going to have a 20% increase in our turnover for next year and we’re pretty confident that we’ll hit that target, therefore we’re going to need the skilled resources to do it," Golledge said.

For those in construction seeking jobs, the future looks bright.

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