Many Australians are feeling nervous because we no longer have the safety net of Job Keeper to help businesses survive the global pandemic.

The government scheme that subsidised the wages of eligible workers officially ended on March 28 2021 after running for one year.

Not only did this program save hundreds of thousands of jobs, it also protected many companies from financial distress.

There were only 5000 insolvencies at the peak of the pandemic in 2020. This seems steep, but it’s actually far lower than the usual 8000 that occur every year – thanks to Job Keeper and other government measures.

What will happen to struggling building firms, without this vital support?

It’s likely our sector will fare better than most others. As an essential service, we’ve been shielded from the worst of the direct hits.

And construction workers who find themselves without a job hopefully won’t be unemployed for long, because there are many companies seeking their skills.

High demand for construction workers and professionals:

Construction tradespeople and professionals are highly sought after, as building companies anticipate an influx of projects.

In fact, Sourceable reports there’s actually MORE tradespeople vacancies than before the COVID outbreak.

For example, there are now 1,958 job openings for electricians – according to data from the department of Education, Skills and Employment. Not only has this number risen over eight consecutive months, it’s the highest recorded vacancy level for electricians since October 2019.

As for construction professionals:

Job vacancies for architects, managers and engineers haven’t quite recovered to pre-COVID levels, but they’re almost there.

Across Australia, construction employment has actually grown by 9.9 per cent over the past five years – and thankfully COVID-19 hasn’t put a major dent in that.

An influx of construction projects…

This upward employment trend is largely driven by multi-residential and civil construction activity. BIS Oxford Economics predicts we’re heading towards a record-breaking boom for public rail and road projects, as reported by Sourceable.

This will predominantly take place in cities on the east coast. All up, the dollar value for civil and engineering construction is expected to grow by $32 billion from 2019/20 to 2022/23.

Also consider that many building projects were paused during lockdown, so companies are now working harder to meet those deadlines – on top of new projects.

This surge of projects is welcome news for our industry, but there are some challenges too…

Plenty of competition for skilled workers:

It may take longer for building companies to find skilled tradespeople and professionals when the demand is so high – because they’re competing with so many other firms.

There’s also the fact that fewer international workers are being employed in Australia – due to the pandemic stalling global migration.

The best way to attract quality candidates is to provide training and career development opportunities with a decent work-life balance. Another possibility is to look across the ditch to fill workforce gaps, now that Australia has commenced quarantine-free travel with New Zealand.

There’s not enough apprentices to meet growing demand:

There’s concern that many apprenticeships could be threatened if more businesses shut down as a result of COVID-19.

Vocational training has been a long-standing challenge for our industry, even before the pandemic. In the building industry, the level of completed apprenticeships and traineeships has been falling since 2013. It doesn’t help that vocational training funding is at its lowest level in more than ten years.

This adds to a problem that some building companies face: not having enough resources to handle the growing volume of projects – which makes it harder to meet deadlines and budget constraints.

Technical innovation doesn’t solve the skills shortage challenge, but it can help construction businesses to manage their projects more efficiently.

The vital role of technology for construction efficiency:

Electronic forms, video conferencing apps, online modules, contract tracing systems and scheduling software.

These are some of the tools that construction firms embrace to handle growing demands on their time.

In fact, when it comes to using technology to manage the COVID recovery – Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) building companies are leading the Asia Pacific region. A survey of 283 construction firms in our region shows that 30 per cent of ANZ businesses are using digital strategies for long-term growth.

Technology can help site managers to optimise planning, minimise risks and bring projects to life more efficiently – especially when they have enough skilled workers on their team.