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Market Pulse: Vic Gov shaking up job market; Matthew Wright, Wattblock and Oliver Steele

Matthew Belleghem, SHK
Matthew Belleghem, SHK

It has taken a while for policy certainty to come into play in Victoria, but now that it has we are really starting to see some action, according to Matthew Belleghem of executive recruitment firm SHK.

“The present economic environment where we have access to capital, population growth, policy certainty – at least at the state level – that really creates an environment where organisations are confident that these priorities are not necessarily going to be shifting overnight,” Belleghem says.

“The challenge is, of course, that there are a lot of good people in the market and so organisations that are hiring can be very specific about the skills set and the competencies that they are looking for.”

Belleghem is looking to fill three top jobs at Sustainability Victoria – director communities and climate change, director business and built environment, and director communications & engagement.

He believes the appointment of one minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, across the three portfolios of energy, environment and climate change, is exciting for the sector and has provided the opportunity for the government to play a significant role in driving behaviour change.

Belleghem is also on the hunt for a suitable candidate for director, renewable energy policy at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). This person will be tasked with actually designing the VRET, Victoria’s renewable energy target.

“There are very ambitious – achievable but ambitious – renewable energy targets that have been set [25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025] but the actual policy mechanisms are being designed and the person to lead that design is the person we are currently leading the search for.”

Another role, director, energy markets policy & regulation, will lead the teams that make sure Victoria’s energy grid and market remains stable and reliable as the economy decarbonises.

How do you ensure you get the right people with the right skills sets for such senior roles? Well, along with hiring a Victorian chief engineer, the new Office of Projects Victoria (OPV) is hiring an assistant director, skills and performance to develop a strategy for ensuring Victoria’s workforce can support major project delivery.

“There are real pinch points in the labour market,” Belleghem says. “You can have one type of engineer and there might be 50 of them in the market unemployed, another type of engineer … they are bringing them in from overseas and taking them anywhere they can find them. So the new approach in state government is they’re trying to provide a bit more strategy around it and a bit more industrywide oversight.”

Gas on the hit list

A new market is emerging in the sustainable property industry – and its focus is reducing reliance on gas for energy.

Twelve months ago, Matthew Wright and Paul Szuster formed Pure Electric with the aim of helping retail and small-to-medium business customers reduce their energy emissions to zero. They have formed a relationship with a large building supply company to tap into the regional and rural market.

“The aim is to get customers off fossil fuels, especially gas – all states except for Queensland rely heavily on gas,” Wright says.

With two million houses in Victoria relying on gas and 50 per cent of houses in NSW, there’s a massive market opportunity.

The company is bedding down its main areas of business, which include getting customers onto solar where possible, advising on the most efficient appliances such as heat pumps, and now adding battery storage. They have received a fair bit of interest in this area and Pure Electric’s first battery customers will switch on in April/May – achieving near zero grid input.

“People need electricity; they don’t need gas,” Wright says. “It’s an exciting space – creating a new market getting rid of gas.”

Electric vehicles and Smart Blocks enthusiasm

Over at Wattblock, the team is working through a backlog of programs as well as developing something new in the “electric vehicle high-rise apartment space”.

Chief executive officer Brent Clark says the electric vehicle project will launch on 1 April.

According to Clark, all manner of connections and collaborations that will benefit the industry have come out of the recent national tender process for the Smart Blocks program.

There was significant interest with 50 groups bidding for the two-year contract to operate Smart Blocks, a successful program that helps strata building owners and managers improve common property energy efficiency, including HVAC, lighting, water systems, pools and amenities.

Smart Blocks was developed by Strata Community Australia in conjunction with the City of Melbourne, City of Sydney, Owners Corporation Network and Green Strata.

Now the City of Melbourne and City of Sydney will provide seed funding over two years to the new operator, who will expand the program’s reach and scope.

“[The tender process] brings multiple players together not just for that opportunity but [memorandums of understanding] to drive sustainability through apartment blocks,” Clark says.

Skills shortage is biting 

Meanwhile, the skills shortage in NSW is impacting on the construction industry, says Oliver Steele of architecture, construction and sustainable property development company Steele Associates, which is looking for a new site manager for their Australia-first Passive House apartment project in Redfern.

“It’s a real problem,” Steele says. “The industry is so busy – anyone looking for a job, you’ve got to wonder why they are looking for a job! The fundamental problem is we haven’t had the people entering the industry and now the industry is busy we don’t have enough for simple supply and demand.”

Steele is on the Housing Industry Association planning committee and had talks with NSW deputy premier and minister for skills John Barilaro about how to fix the shortage. Apparently the government continually comes up against the same roadblock – parental expectations – when trying to encourage teenagers leaving school either at the end of year 10 or 12 to do a trade.

“There’s a general increasing societal expectation among parents that if their kids don’t go to university they are somehow failing and there’s this really damaging notion that doing a trade, going into the building industry, is for people who aren’t academically inclined – it’s an easy way out in terms of brain power,” Steele says.

“But that is such a damaging misconception because there’s so much application for intelligence and initiative and problem solving in building. So if we can somehow get the message to parents that if their child wants to go into a trade, or go into the building industry, it’s actually – in terms of security, job opportunity challenge and fulfilment – a really great choice.”

A change in the mindset of young people would also be helpful.

“What they should be comparing is, ‘I could go to uni for four years, get paid nothing and end up with a big bill,’ or ‘I could do an apprenticeship for four years, get paid to do it and end up with a trade.’”

Steele is hoping to find someone who isn’t necessarily on the hunt for a job to be site manager for his boutique eco apartments.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people working in the industry who are very capable and interested in sustainable developments who simply haven’t had the opportunity to be a part of it, because it really is – unfortunately – a niche area of the market.”

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