Roads Review: Narrowing the skills gap

With the industry struggling with skilled labour shortages amidst a surge of infrastructure projects, we ask industry leaders: What can the infrastructure sector do better to narrow the existing skills gap?

Tanja Conners, Executive Director, Knowledge and Partnership, AfPA

AfPA has addressed the skills gap by working with industry to develop a Flexible Pavements Industry Skills Card. The card will comprise of units taken from the Certificate III Bituminous Surfacing qualification that have been designed to form a skills set for various aspects of the flexible pavements industry. These unit are all competency-based and available under the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system. The release of the card will happen in stages. The first stage was the development of the ‘Be Bitumen Safe’ training delivery online. This training is a pre-requisite to additional, more involved training in safely handling bituminous materials. The other stages will target asphalting and spray sealing operations and introduce other industry specific short courses, such as Chain of Responsibility and a National Work Around Mobile Plant course. The card is designed to further add skills sets for all fields within the flexible pavements industry. The resources will be developed by AfPA with industry for industry and the VET accredited units will only be delivered by Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s) who hold a delivery agreement with the association.

David Hallett, Chief Executive Officer, IPWEA Victoria

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a must to build individual and organisational capability in the fast-moving infrastructure sector. Qualifications provide a solid base and diverse experience is vital, however an awareness and understanding of new technologies, tools and products is key to maintaining skill-set currency. Victoria’s Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 recognises this by establishing minimum qualification, experience and CPD requirements for anyone providing a professional engineering service. But CPD isn’t a box-ticking exercise. Meaningful, role-relevant learning is more important than ever for anyone seeking to develop and deliver successful infrastructure projects.

Chris Melham, Chief Executive Officer, Civil Contractors Federation National

The immediate reinstatement of civil occupations on the National Skills Needs List is fundamental to narrowing the skills gap in the civil infrastructure industry.  These occupations include bridge, road and tunnel constructors, civil plant operators, pipe layers and line markers. With the stroke of a pen, the Government could make the civil construction sector more attractive for potential entrants by ensuring apprentices, VET providers and employers are eligible for government training incentives.   Listing civil occupations on the National Skills Needs List takes on added importance in this current economic climate when Australia is looking to bounce back from the impacts of COVID 19.

Michael Caltabiano, Chief Executive Officer, ARRB

As the National Transport Research Organisation, ARRB is committed and focussed on the development of next generation talent to serve the ever-changing transport infrastructure sector. It has been a deliberate and focussed effort by the organisation to invest in next generation thinking and bring staff into our business that have skills that are beyond the traditional engineering base such as environmental law, economics, chemistry, physics, phycology, artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced programming. The traditional thinking of engineering businesses, even for specialist businesses like ARRB, is being replaced with agility, transparency, collaboration and the new normal, which is skills diversity to solve new and challenging problems.

Sybilla Grady, Senior Policy Advisor, Engineers Australia

The boom-bust cycle that has characterised infrastructure industry in Australia breeds uncertainty and restricts knowledge and skills transfer across different projects. Where there is instability in the infrastructure market, the risk of appropriately skilled people pursuing alternative careers is increased. Government has a role to play in providing greater market certainty. Record funding and acceleration of shovel ready projects is a short-term fix but without strategies to support reform of the culture, planning and delivery process, sustainable productivity is at stake. The sector needs a culture shift. Attraction and retention issues may be addressed through targeted incentivised programs to support diverse participation and upskilling, as well as providing safe and supportive working environments through investment in continuing professional development schemes and tender blackout periods over the summer holiday season.

Murray Vitlich, Chief Executive Officer, Coates

Role-based education and on-going training is critical and will help ensure the industry has the right skills for employees to undertake their roles and perform tasks in a safe and efficient manner.  However, the last 18 months has also demonstrated to most industries an increased need for workplace education across a broader base of skills beyond capabilities to undertake a role. For example, emotional resilience and well-being techniques that empower employees to manage the uncertainties and challenges that they face at work and in life are increasingly important to help create greater optimism.  In addition, the industry will need to further invest in technology-based learning such as virtual reality and augmented reality. These educational aids or technologies will also help ensure the delivery of learning is accessible and more equitable for all learning styles and backgrounds.

This column initially appeared in the September edition of Roads & Infrastructure magazine. Read the magazine here. 

If you or anyone in your organisation are interested in contributing to the column, please contact the editor at

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