The impacts of COVID-19 have been far-reaching. Every industry within Australia has felt the flow-on effects (some more significantly than others) since the pandemic first broke over 18 months ago. While the country has learnt to adapt to the virus’s impact and is developing strategies to get businesses back on track, the damage lockdowns and social restrictions have done to the nation’s economy have been significant. As we move forward, however, there is cause for economic optimism and the infrastructure industry is largely to thank for that – especially civil infrastructure.
While growth within the infrastructure space has been predicted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for a long time, it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that we realised just how vital the industry was to us (Australian Industry and Skills Committee, 2020). This was made abundantly clear during the unveiling of the Federal Government’s 2021 -22 budget in May, in which the construction and infrastructure industry received a funding bonanza into projects nationwide. The government announced that an additional $15.2 billion will go towards funding infrastructure commitments over the next 10 years. In a press statement about the budget, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack said that the significant portion of funding dedicated to infrastructure within the 2021-2022 budget demonstrated its importance in the country’s economic recovery (Australian Government, 2021).
“More money for infrastructure means more jobs, more local procurement and a better future for businesses across the country and that’s why this investment is the centrepiece of our National Economic Recovery Plan”(Infrastructure Magazine, 2020). In fact, at the time it was said that the infrastructure funding was estimated to support an additional 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. This is on top of the 100,000 employees approximately already working on road and rail projects across the country.
The significant funds being poured into the industry, and the reliance placed upon it to support the economic recovery is welcome news to those working within the industry, as it indicates the number of opportunities to come. However, with opportunities also comes great challenges, as organisations across the industry are now struggling to find the resources necessary to meet the constantly growing infrastructure pipeline. Consequently, the multinational professional services network KPMG have predicted the key emerging trends within the Infrastructure Industry that will help alleviate the bottleneck situation they currently find themselves in and propel Australia’s economic resurgence.
There is certain digital infrastructure that is required to enable a country’s digital economy and society. Over the last few decades, Australia has steadily been building and designing more data centres to manage computing, data storage, and network services, satellites to provide network and information services and cellular networks that will provide wireless broadband internet and communication services. However, with so many people across the country shifting to remote work, there has been an increased pressure put on our digital infrastructure to allow for digital workforces and deliver services via digital channels. Furthermore, many critical public-service infrastructure owners — water, electricity and public transport providers, for example — had to work out new ways to ensure their operations could still continue remotely during the lockdowns and now they need to find ways to institutionalize those approaches and reduce their complexity and costs. Consequently, many countries (Australia included) are looking to design and construct infrastructure that will allow for connectivity technologies like 5G and Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality, as these will all play a significant role in making remote work easier and ultimately creating ‘smart cities’. KPMG predicts that ‘hyperconnected infrastructure’ will enable cities across the country to implement smart waste and water management, secure smart grids and deploy sustainable energy and dynamic asset management systems critical to hastening the early development of fully autonomous vehicles (KPMG International, 2021).
With so many Australian residents escaping the cities in search of more space during lockdown and restricted to holidaying within Australia due to international border closures, it’s predicted that local infrastructure will need to be adjusted to adapt to these changes. In fact, Australia has already experienced a 200% increase in net migration from capital cities to regional areas (Madew, 2021). It’s predicted that there will be an increase in subdivision, roads (either new or upgrades) and water projects in regional communities to cater to the demand in affordable regional housing and regional tourism. This will also include work done on existing regional telecommunication networks to allow for faster digital connections. These predictions are already starting to come to fruition with all of the regional road upgrades and outer-city subdivision projects stated in each state’s budget for 2021-22.
Another impact of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns is the increased utilisation of local amenities. With residents across many cities confined to the suburbs they live in – not to mention being barred from indoor venues (restaurants, shopping centres, gyms etc.)- the use of local parks and green spaces has increased by 23% nationally. Furthermore, research revealed that 87% of Australians have noticed a positive shift in community attitudes towards urban green space, particularly amongst those living in high-density areas (Madew, 2021). Consequently, it’s predicted that infrastructure that will both facilitate further green spaces and preserve the green spaces currently in place will take a higher priority. Examples of this could be, transport systems that will allow for less congested roads and traffic noises, more bike lanes, rain gardens or constructing wetlands near residential housing complexes. Furthermore, it’s expected that the infrastructure will have to take further responsibility in driving a green recovery. Currently, construction and the use of infrastructure is responsible for around 70% of all carbon emissions, largely through energy and transport sectors and the productions of materials such as cement and steel (KPMG International, 2021). Consequently, it’s expected that there will be a further focus on how the industry can achieve ‘net zero’, for example prioritising the use of sustainable materials or assets.
Due to the pandemic, goods and manufacturing supply chains experienced massive disruptions throughout 2020, which had a flow-on effect for the world’s infrastructure and construction companies and meant massive delays. The supply of raw materials became disrupted, equipment and labour became stuck behind borders and project teams were either isolated on-site or quarantined miles away from their jobs. While normalcy has started to return to the industry and borders across the globe have begun to open up, Australia still faces a number of border restrictions. Workers are still confined by travel restrictions and operations and project teams are still often isolated. Consequently, KPMG analysts have predicted that over the next few years a key priority for the industry will be investing in ways to make systems and processes around supply chains more resilient. The focus will shift towards the factors that influence supply strategies; whether that be re-shoring, nearshoring or the development of strengthening regional, national and local supply chain and logistics infrastructure (KPMG International, 2021).
It will be exciting to see these trends come to fruition over the next few years, and the career opportunities they’ll create for those working within the infrastructure industry. To ensure you can keep abreast of the latest opportunities in the wake of these developments, or to reach out to our team of consultants for a confidential chat about the infrastructure job market generally, you can contact us here: email@example.com
 Australian Industry and Skills Committee. (2020). Civil Infrastructure: Overview. Australian Industry and Skills Committee. Retrieved from: https://nationalindustryinsights.aisc.net.au/industries/mining-drilling-and-civil-infrastructure/civil-infrastructure
 KPMG International. (2021). Emerging Trends In Infrastructure. KPMG International. Retrieved from: https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/01/emerging-trends-in-infrastructure.pdf
 Madew, R. (2021). The Five Trends Shaping Infrastructure After Covid-19. Committee For Economic Development of Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.ceda.com.au/NewsAndResources/Opinion/Infrastructure/The-five-trends-shaping-infrastructure-after-COVID