THE skills shortage has turned into a job shortage as one in three civil engineering contractors in Queensland could lose their jobs by mid-year if current trends continue, according to Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) CEO Robert Gow.
Gow urges the State Government to fast-track its commitment to public infrastructure and do whatever it can to put confidence back into the civil construction industry that contributed $16.3 billion to the economy last financial year.
“In the last three or four years we’ve recognised the skills shortage and there’s been a lot of programs to attract people to the industry, but I’m concerned about what message is being sent now to those people,” says Gow.
“People might be able to understand why jobs are being shed at a rational level, but at an emotional level they may be unlikely to rejoin the industry, and that would be a great tragedy,” he says.
“It is critical that we see works brought to tender immediately so the industry can plan with certainty – and keep Queenslanders in jobs.”
He says the CCF’s industry snapshot shows an average of 10 per cent of jobs were cut since September, but in the private sector job losses were more in the range of 20 to 35 per cent.
“It looks like a couple of thousand workers will lose their jobs as we’ve seen a 50 per cent slowdown since mid last year, which was because of two reasons — the first one obviously is the financial crisis but the second reason is that government processes since the council amalgamations have slowed somewhat,” he says.
“I’ll put it this way – the train needs to pull out of the station a bit quicker. We’ve been in discussions with the government and what I hope is that we’ll look back in a few months and know that we did everything that could have been done.”
“Action needs to be taken now to ensure the workforce for the future.”
He cites a number of examples from the CCF’s survey of companies to show just how dire the crisis has become.
“There was one company that has a turnover of around $10-$15 million a year that had 27 staff in September. Since then they’ve had to make seven workers redundant and we’re expecting with the current trend that they’ll have 10 workers left by June.
“Another anecdotal snapshot is a member who conducts government projects on the north side. Last year when he advertised for skilled workers he hardly got a response, but in January this year he got 350 responses.”
The CCF industry snapshot reveals that trainees and apprentices will be the hardest hit by the civil construction slowdown, and one in six redundancies will be made up of the industry’s newest workers.
Gow says contractors that can deliver projects for less than $30 million are crying out for work, and there are great opportunities for innovation in project delivery that could bring contractors together to work on bigger projects.
“This will help Queensland through the current crisis by protecting local jobs, while delivering long-term benefits to the community through improved public infrastructure,” he says.
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