Infrastructure boom creating demand for sustainability skills

Market Pulse: The infrastructure boom just keeps increasing and, with every new announcement, there’s positive pressure on sustainability jobs and an awful lot of opportunity, according to Matthew Belleghem, team leader – technical and public policy at recruitment firm SHK.

$1 billion-plus infrastructure projects in Melbourne, such as Melbourne’s Metro Tunnel, the West Gate Tunnel Project and the North East Link (the connection of Eastlink to the Metropolitan Ring Road), are driving the market.

“Because they are big, high-impact, in built-up urban areas, there’s a significant involvement with environmental and sustainability matters and significant expectations on every contract and every supplier – basically everyone involved in the entire project,” Mr Belleghem said.

“So that’s driving significant rebound in the market both for environmental management professionals but also for sustainability professionals.”

In addition, the popularity and take up of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia as a benchmark and rating tool is significant, Belleghem says.

“We are now seeing some of the smaller organisations also starting to pay attention to what is required, and realise that they have to meet these standards if they are then going to win the pieces of work that are going to be assigned as these big projects come along.”

The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio has been vocal about the importance of managing environmental sustainability, which, according to Belleghem, has resulted in a significant jobs movement.

“We are seeing a new spring in the step across consulting and corporate sides, and there are a lot of people in state government working very hard and looking for new talent to bolster the good work that they are doing.”

The new international standard for sustainable procurement is likely to have a big impact on the sector.

This week UK infrastructure group Balfour Beatty became first company in the world to be assessed against ISO 20400, which provides guidance, drivers and principles to ensure sustainable procurement.

Belleghem says he expects to see a significant uptake among Australian sustainable supply chain professionals.

“Given that the ISO certification will then flow through to procurement requirements and best practice, it will be very easy to standardise and I expect – particularly the major multinational and top-tier Australian players – that will be an easy standard for them to roll into,” he says.

“Suddenly a lot of supply chain procurement people are going to be working a lot more closely with sustainability people than they might in the past.”

Creative job opportunities within infrastructure projects

Game developers, graphic designers and even artists may be among the professions that major engineering companies will require in the not-too-distant future as industry grapples with the complexities of the national infrastructure challenge.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that roughly US$26 trillion (AU$35.1 trillion) will be invested in infrastructure across Asia over the next 10 years, with US$700-800 billion in Australia alone.

Liam Hayes, chief people officer of engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Aurecon, says the role of engineers as “sense makers” will be critical in helping governments achieve their “nation building” and smart cities agenda while seeking to stimulate economic development and job creation.

Liam Hayes, Aurecon

“At the moment, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, Aurecon is undergoing increased recruitment into our infrastructure business and/or the shift of staffing resources to new infrastructure projects,” he says.

“Navigating mounting challenges requires far more than infrastructure design and we’re after candidates who can help us deliver technical solutions that drive optimal commercial as well as socioeconomic outcomes for clients and communities alike.”

And it’s not just engineering skills that are in demand.

According to Hayes, sought-after engineering companies beyond 2020 are likely to employ game developers and other technology professionals to facilitate better community engagement.

“They’ll have an army of graphic designers developing inputs for 3D and augmented reality products; and they may even employ professional artists who can bring to life visions of the future as inputs into infrastructure designs.”

For example, the upgrade of Sydney’s Wynyard Station utilised a custom smartphone app to illustrate the future look of the station to users during the design phase.

“Successful companies will be those who invest in their staff as they hone the skills clients are already telling them they require in future,” Hayes says.

Paid internships needed in sustainability sector

Job applicants are more qualified than ever before, but where is the on-the-ground experience?

Rob Catchlove, environmental scientist and director of Wave Consulting, a Melbourne-based consultancy specialising in smart water and energy systems, says a more formalised internship system is needed in Australia to bridge the gap between tertiary education and the workforce.

Catchlove is currently advertising an engineering role and has been inundated with applications from graduates who say: “If I don’t get the job, I still want to come and do some sort of placement.”

“There is a lot of demand to work on something new and interesting, especially in the sustainability and innovation area, but I guess I don’t know yet, to be honest, whether the skill set matches my expectation of who we’re looking for and what we want to do.”

Last year when advertising for a copy editor he was “blown away” by the qualifications that applicants put forward for the role.

“It’s almost like, these days, people don’t leave university without two degrees,” he says. “I’ve seen it again with the engineering job I’m advertising at the moment – there are people with PhDs and masters.”

Catchlove, who secured his own first full-time role through a work placement at the Bureau of Meteorology, believes internships are a critical element of assisting the transition of people from higher education degrees to finding work in the sustainability industry.

“I think that the public sector is doing less of that and I think it’s a really critical part of the solution here – to actually bridge that gap and give people more opportunity. Something a little bit more formalised would definitely help.”

Sustainability jobs, according to Catchlove, are on a good trajectory.

“There’s an element of refinement and improvement and innovation that keeps going along,” he says. “I think the fact that you’ve got technological change is making inroads. It’s a lot more cost effective to put in your own renewable energy systems.

“Water systems are following that path but are a little bit further behind in terms of cost effectiveness. So there’s a technological change that allows the whole sector, and therefore the jobs, to keep improving.”

Mr Catchlove says the critical change was the integration aspect – “how the green infrastructure connects to the energy efficiency side of things to renewable energy to water demands to transport”.

“This is going to be the future and people that are able to work across the different fields will be the ones that do really well.”

For tips and inquiries contact Sandra Edmunds: sandra@thefifthestate.com.au

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