Locating and securing the right talent for your organisation can be a difficult task in itself, but what happens when you are attempting to recruit in the middle of a skilled labour shortage? This is something many Australian organisations – particularly those tied to infrastructure projects- are contemplating currently. According to Sally Ann McDonald - the Chief executive of McDonald Surveys who is doing work for parts of Western Australia’s billion-dollar Metronet project – the organisation has struggled to find skilled workers for the project despite several months of advertising (Marin-Guzman, 2020). Meanwhile, Roads Australia and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) have called on the federal government to update the Priority Skilled Occupations List to include specialist skills that are critical to the delivery of major road and rail construction projects across Australia. The reason for these skills shortages within the infrastructure sector is partly due to border restrictions, which has driven up the costs and difficulty of sourcing skills from overseas. Paired with the significant investment by the government into infrastructure projects to help support Australia’s economy, there are not enough workers to meet the demand.
However, skills shortages are not a new concept. Even before the pandemic and resulting border closures, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees needed to do them. In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 14% of the global workforce—would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence (Batra, P. et al,. 2017).
With the threat of skill shortages impacting multiple industries – particularly within the built environment space- what can organisations do to alleviate the issue? And how can companies ensure they are attracting the best candidates for the growing number of roles they are trying to fill? We’ve provided 5 steps below that can help:
Before you can begin training and upskilling your employees, you need to have identified what training areas to prioritise and invest in. To determine this, organisations need to look internally at the goals and objectives they’ve set for the next year, eighteen months or five years and establish the particular skills that will help them get there. This will be different for different organisations; if an organisation is focused on building new relationships or breaking into new markets, perhaps the skills they want to focus on developing moving forward will revolve around problem-solving or innovation. If the organisation has a specific goal in mind- like completing an infrastructure project for example, maybe the focus will be on developing more ‘hard’ skills like digital literacy or knowledge in software programs like Revit or AutoCAD.
Once you’ve established your objectives, you can then identify which employee groups will be impacted by them and what skill gaps will be created by your adjusted business model. For example, a key objective for many retail organisations during COVID-19 was to shift from in-store sales to predominantly online sales and home deliveries. This has meant that employees within tech teams and operations and logistics have had to learn different skills to facilitate this shift; the changes in service offering, the physical building and management of online platforms and even the increase in demand. Organisations have then worked hard to train impacted employees in the relevant skills to plug these gaps.
Global consultant firm McKinsey & Company have recommended organisations build a ‘no-regrets tool-kit’ that will benefit an employee’s development (and the organisation’s productivity indirectly) no matter how the specific employee’s role may evolve (Agrawal,S., De Smet, A., Lacroix, S. & Reich. 2020). This toolkit focuses on four key skills; digital, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and adaptability and resilience.
Building digital skills and awareness amongst all employees is integral to ensure they can feel confident in working within a remote world and can adapt alongside the ongoing technological advancements and innovation occurring across industries. Higher cognitive skills refer to the problem solving, and critical thinking required particularly for sound project management, but more generally the skills that are required for businesses to continually innovate and develop their product/service offering. Finally, social and emotional skills are necessary to strengthen and build relationships and foster collaboration amongst a team. These skills will be especially important to leaders seeking support from employees when trying to drive change, or when trying to set up new business partnerships. Finally, developing adaptability and resilience skills will allow individuals (and the business overall) to thrive during an evolving business situation and overcome particular challenges. Those with strong adaptability and resilience skills, have been able to emerge out of 2020 relatively unscathed for example, as these skills allowed them to pivot and adapt their business models to the changing COVID-19 restrictions. McKinsey & Company believe these four skill areas will help the majority of organisations employees to respond well to changes and to continue to grow.
A great way to bring in new skills to an organisation is to source them from relevant educational institutions. This solution benefits both the organisation and the institution as it allows the organisation to bring in a fresh supply of skilled potential workers, which can be moulded into future leaders of the company while also ensuring the educational institution can help place their graduates in their chosen industry. Incorporating strategies like apprenticeships, internships or graduate programs can be a great way to acquire workers with a particular skill set and are heavily encouraged by the federal government in the face of current skill shortages. In Australia’s most recent federal budget, treasurer Josh Frydenburg announced they would be investing $2.7 billion into extending the apprentice wage subsidies introduced at the beginning of the pandemic. This will see the Morrison government pay 50 per cent of trainees’ first-year salaries to help organisations within the construction and engineering industry better facilitate the country’s current significant infrastructure pipeline (Wootten, 2021).
An easy short-term solution for a skills shortage is employing temporary workers; contractors, freelancers and consultants. The advantage of temporary workers is that they provide flexibility. They are already trained/skilled in their particular discipline and can help to fill or support significant gaps quickly which provides a great short-term solution for organisations, who are currently trying to train up current staff or in the process of hiring permanent employees.
Unlike other areas of the labour market, the number of temporary workers is only increasing. A leading research and advisory company Gartner conducted a survey of 800 plus HR leaders in June last year which revealed that 32% of organisations are replacing full-time employees with temporary workers as a cost-saving measure (Baker. M, 2020). This increases the likelihood of finding temporary workers with your required skillsets and experience and therefore a cost-effective solution.
If the identified skill gaps you identify become a concern and are beginning to significantly impact the overall productivity, organisations could look into how they recruit new employees. It’s important to remember new staff members don’t have to be perfect-fit when hired- especially if your organisation has a strong onboarding and learning & development program already in place. Applicants who have 80% of the right requirements and a willingness to learn could be just as effective a hire as candidates that possess 100% of the requirements.
At Design & Build, we’ve established our own learning & development program ‘Building Blocks for Success’ which has a specific ‘foundations’ level designed especially for candidates who show great potential and enthusiasm for recruitment, but don’t yet have the experience. Our tailored learning program ensures that we can provide these new workers with the necessary skills to not only be successful in their recruitment career but contribute to the ongoing success of Design & Build.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our ‘Building Blocks For Success Program’ or are having trouble filling the current skill gaps in your team – both short & long term- our consultants are always available to help. With 17 years of recruitment experience within the built environment industry, our team have built a strong and extensive candidate base across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. You can contact us at the below, to find out more:
(03) 8535 3100
 Marin-Guzman. (2021). Skills Shortages Threaten Infrastructure Boom. The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved from: https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/workplace/skill-shortages-threaten-infrastructure-boom-20210118-p56uup
 Hartman, I. (2021). Major Road And Rail Projects To Face Skills Shortage. Infrastructure Magazine. Retrieved from: https://infrastructuremagazine.com.au/2021/06/01/major-road-and-rail-projects-to-face-skills-shortage/
 Batra, P. Bughin, J. Chui, M., Ko, R., Lund, S., Manyika, J. Sanhvi, S. Woetzel, J. (2017). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills and wages. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages
 Agrawal, S. De Smet,. Lacroix, S. & Reich, A. (2020). To Emerge Stronger From The COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/to-emerge-stronger-from-the-covid-19-crisis-companies-should-start-reskilling-their-workforces-now
 Wootton, W. 2021. Josh Frydenberg’s Apprentice Show: ‘You’re Hired’. The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved from: https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/josh-frydenberg-s-apprentice-show-your-hired-20210512-p57r4v
 Baker, M. (2020). 9 Future Of Work Trends Post- COVID-19. Gartner. Retrieved from: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/9-future-of-work-trends-post-covid-19/