New South Wales is currently experiencing a surge in projects and work across the construction and infrastructure sectors, which is expected to run for several years.

While the figures vary depending on the source and sectors classified, it is broadly accepted that the state can expect in excess of $60 billion in government investment for major projects over the next three to four years.

Furthermore, it’s not a matter of when, as already we are seeing projects underway.

Up until recently, the civil infrastructure market in NSW has been quiet. Industry professionals have looked enviously at their interstate peers and competitors with their busy projects and strong order books, in most part, due to the booming energy and resources sector.

Western Australia experienced decades of mining and gas projects, which have kept the state’s economy and hiring prospects buoyant. Queensland, with the coal industry and more recent CSG/LNG projects, has also seen several positive years.

The tables have certainly turned for NSW.

For now at least, energy and resources appears to have had their day in the sun and State governments, with the exception of NSW of course, appear to have lost their appetite for spending on infrastructure.

The outlook for the NSW market is strong and we’re on the cusp of a genuine boom period.

Westconnex, Northconnex, Parramatta Light Rail, Newcastle Light Rail, Badgery’s Creek Airport and North West Rail Link are all at various stages of development and are merely some of the headline acts among a long list of projects, which will impact the state moving forward. This is in addition to large construction investments already in place such as Barangaroo, which is well on the way to altering the Sydney skyline in a major way.

NSW has attracted some leading international contractors with a track record for delivering the most prestigious and technically challenging projects worldwide, from specialists in tunnelling to rail contractors with very specific skills and experience.  Undoubtedly, an exciting period ahead for all associated with the industry.

However, this will present challenges, including the ability for both consultancies and contractors to secure the right talent for their projects.  We are heading into a market where a skills shortage is inevitable, impacted by both the volume of work and one-in-five civil professionals reaching retirement age over the next 10 years.

The challenge is interesting, but it is certainly not a new one. Recently, the Australian upstream gas industry faced enormous challenges arising from such a busy time.

With seven of the world’s largest LNG projects running concurrently, businesses were faced with the challenge of attracting and retaining talent. This involved looking interstate or internationally for specific skills, while in other areas the ability to transition professionals from other sectors with complimentary traits was vital.

As the civil market grows and companies need to increase their workforce, we will witness a number of similarities experienced previously in the gas sector.

The recruiting pattern will look like this:

Stage 1: Movement of candidates within the NSW market

Stage 2: Movement of candidates from interstate to NSW

Stage 3: Movement of candidates from overseas

With this in mind, it is important that hiring managers, recruiters (both internal and recruitment agency) and HR professionals within the civil market are not just able to map projects and build talent pools locally, but interstate and overseas.  There are a number of challenges with the mobilisation of candidates from both interstate and overseas – they should not be underestimated.

There is a need to be ahead of the curve and best position organisations to secure top talent quickly, efficiently, and in line with project requirements – especially when this involves relocation.

The companies who adapt their talent sourcing strategy and embrace this change in the market will be the ones who ultimately obtain access to the best talent.

Those who continue to use methods, which may have served them well up to now (when largely untested), may encounter major challenges as the market accelerates forward and talent becomes scarcer.

What does this mean for recruitment?

It will certainly become a busier market with plenty of jobs need to be filled, however a busy market does not mean that everyone will be successful.

This is 2016 and our client base (or potential client base) is complex, well informed with recruitment processes, adept in the use of social media and has a high expectation of our industry. And so they should.

What we offer to our client base should be a professional service, a service which adds genuine value to their hiring process and instils a confidence that their business will grow and be more successful as a result of the work we have undertaken.

My key tips include:

  • The days of being a generalist recruiter are over. Genuine specialists will prevail, while those who attempt to be all things to all people will struggle and experience a fraction of the success. An intricate understanding of project type, size, dynamics and role specifics will be essential. How one moves from another sector will require the consultant to genuinely understand the space – their CV alone will likely not be too helpful. At Davidson we call it micro-specialisation. Whatever phrase it is given, it is vital.
  • It’s all about networks and knowledge. In a busy market, it is easy for the white noise of ‘busyness’ to paralyse the ability of a business and the consultants within it to the point that the opportunity passes by and before you know it the market has shifted. Building robust relationships with clients through meetings, networking events and value adding will ensure that you are best positioned to isolate and service the opportunities that exist.
  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket! This is a project driven environment and, sadly, what goes up must come down. While maintaining the genuine specialist approach it is critical that your client base is diverse. Multi-discipline clients will remain busy as projects evolve and as different industry sectors come online. A broad client base allows you to remain relevant as times change.
  • Contracting is key. Most projects will ramp-up through detailed design and construction. Many of the skillsets required through these important phases are needed for a specific time period. Robust, slick contracting processes, which can de-risk a client and provide high levels of efficiency add huge value and can snowball into major opportunities to support your business over a long period of time.
  • Safety is key. Safety is the number one factor on every construction project. Budgets, timeframes and innovation are all important, however it is the responsibility of all involved to ensure that everyone returns home safely at the end of each day. Innovative WHS policies, risk assessment practices, ongoing care and indeed screening of applicants are all of equal importance.

There are of course other factors which will impact the market and candidate care will be a huge factor as businesses compete for talent to service their large projects.

As recruitment professionals, the advice and care, given and shown, during a busy market will be a major factor in the success or failure experienced in leaner markets.

The success of the civil infrastructure space will be determined by its ability to attract, develop and retain talent over the next three to five years.

Many of those will undoubtedly transition from the resources sector. However, the move may not be simple and there are several factors, which will determine how plausible this move is. Giving honest and empathetic advice to those facing challenges in this process will go a long way to building relationships that can be mutually beneficial for years to come.

Ultimately, the cards are in the hands of those in the infrastructure sector and those hoping to enter from other spaces will need to demonstrate the ability to be adaptable. Similarly, recruiters will need to adapt to ensure we continue to add value at all points in the process.

For those who do, there is a sector which is about to explode in NSW waiting and a plethora of opportunity.

I know, I and my team, are looking forward to it.

Stephen Veness has a strong track-record recruiting in the technical space with significant experience across oil and gas, mining, power, water and civil infrastructure. Stephen is the Group Manager of Davidson Projects & Operations and has an experienced team of consultants across Energy & Resources, Project Support, Procurement and Property & Construction disciplines.