Future of Construction Summit sparks action

On the back of the 2023 Future of Construction Summit held earlier this year, Australian Constructors Association CEO Jon Davies is calling for all construction professionals to play their part in setting industry transformation in motion.

By Jon Davies, CEO, Australian Constructors Association.

There should be no reason why a career in construction means giving up going out for nice mid-week dinners and walking the dog. Making money should not be considered a crime and innovation should be celebrated. Women should make up more than 12 per cent of our workforce and the construction industry should be viewed as an industry of choice for future generations.

We need to fundamentally change how our industry operates and we need to start now. We know what needs to be done. We just need to get on and do it.

During the recent Future of Construction Summit, I challenged the 750 plus attendees to commit to collaborative efforts in transforming the culture of Australia’s construction industry. Everyone present in the room – including government representatives, industry leaders and union members – stood up in agreement.

Throughout the two-day summit, we reached a consensus that standing still is not an option. Jim Betts, Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, clearly stated, “We need to throw away a rule book that has let us down. It’s got to change on our watch.”

The event hashtag, #Timeforchange, signifies the commencement of a growing movement to fundamentally transform Australia’s construction industry.

We cannot afford to wait a decade for transformation; we must act now. Failure to do so will result in the ‘disrupt or die’ headline becoming a harsh reality.

Productivity, productivity, productivity

Productivity emerged as a major focal point at this year’s event, underlining the need for urgent action. Startling statistics were revealed: Australia’s opportunity cost soared from an already staggering $35 billion in FY 2019 to a staggering $47 billion in just two years. To put this into perspective, this amount alone surpasses the cost of several high-profile infrastructure projects currently in the planning phase.

It’s no surprise then that governments are now deferring projects due to market capacity and value for money concerns. Imagine if they could benefit from that $47 billion each year. Improving productivity performance is not a matter of choice then.

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Future of Construction Summit sparks action
2023 Future of Construction Summit.

One of the speakers made a compelling argument that our industry should not merely focus on managing risk but instead become an industry that manages productivity to refocus what is important to us. Another strong point was that we need to pinch with pride from what other industries are doing and have a manufacturing mindset about understanding data.

During discussions on productivity, the significance of concepts like standardisation became apparent. It was evident that productivity encompasses every aspect of our industry – from culture and contracts to technology. To unlock the productivity puzzle, we must ensure all these elements are aligned and optimised.

Flexibility is key

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that as an industry we’re not as rigid as we once thought. We have discovered that being onsite every day, six or seven days a week, and working more than ten hours a day is not the only path to getting a job built. We have learned the value of balance and the importance of making time for life outside of work. We can enjoy going out for an evening meal, exercising before or after work and still get our work done.

Unsurprisingly, flexible work arrangements emerged as a crucial topic of discussion at this year’s summit. The panellists challenged conventional notions of flexibility and explored how it can benefit everyone involved. To clarify, this is not just a women’s issue. There was unanimous agreement that we must find ways to bring in flexibility and job sharing into the worksite. After all, shift work and job sharing are essentially two sides of the same coin. It is crucial that we actively demonstrate flexible working arrangements. If senior members of the industry fail to lead by example, it becomes challenging for others to embrace these practices.

Net zero in 10

We have been running a net zero marathon in flip flops. It is time to take the flip flops off and sprint. These famous words by Marco Assorati from WeBuild could not be truer. Discussing how construction can become net zero in 10 years, Brett Mason from Built proposed three things are at play driving the industry towards a more sustainable future – the carrot, the stick and the tambourine.

With federal and state governments working on a range of initiatives including legislation and measured standards, we are at a tipping point where we are about to see a lot more carrot and stick to achieve sustainability outcomes in our industry. The value the community places on sustainability – including our employees, our tenants and even our friends and families – ensures there is also a noisy chorus demanding action from the industry as well.

Technology and innovation

The industry has been talking about technology as an opportunity and the Day Two panels demonstrated that now it’s happening. We heard some of the panellists talk about the use of virtual reality to test design outcomes before building. Eliminating rework and waste to drive efficiency was a big topic. Data sharing was also a point of discussion – it’s huge and we need to do it.

For all the positive discussion around technology, there was also recognition of the constant push back around adoption because of risk. Taking on risk to develop technology takes a lot of convincing.

One panellist said, “Show me the case and show me the other times that it is a viable solution and then I’ll consider it.”

We acknowledged that the mindset for innovation needs to change – it can no longer be “we want the innovative thing, as long as it’s been done three times.”

In its simplest form, the takeaway is that we no longer accept the excuse that it’s too difficult.

Culture pledge

As contractors, we know that we are part of the industry’s culture problem and therefore part of the solution. We know that there is much that we could and should do ourselves without waiting for others or requiring something in return.

It is for this reason that all members of the Australian Constructors Association (ACA) made a pledge at the summit to transform the culture of the industry from the bottom up. The pledge contains three actions.

  1. ACA members pledge to mandate flexible work plans for employees on every project, both office and site roles. Other international jurisdictions are moving to legislate flexible working options and we are not waiting for the Australian Government to follow suit.
  2. ACA members pledge to achieve the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice citation across 75 per cent of our membership. The WGEA citation reinforces the message we want to convey about our industry’s commitment to diversity.
  3. With major workforce shortages right now, ACA members have further pledged to rebrand the industry and attract more workers. There are opportunities for everyone, and we will be lifting the curtain on those opportunities and promoting them.

This pledge does not require anything of anyone other than ACA members and we will absolutely be walking the talk. Yes, it is #Timeforchange. Who’s on board?

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