The current challenges being experienced by the construction industry in Australia have been well publicised, particularly in relation to dealing with COVID-19 disruptions and rising prices and supply shortages. How is the industry dealing with those issues and other challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic?
These topics and others were addressed by Alison Mirams, CEO of Roberts & Co, in her engaging presentation at the 2021 TMA National Conference. Alison noted that the construction industry is Australia’s 3rd largest employer and accounts for 9% of GDP, but also provided some sobering statistics in relation to the industry:
- construction workers are 6 times more likely to die from suicide than a workplace accident;
- less than 2% of trades working in the industry are women.
Alison identified that, whilst the NSW construction industry has “stayed open” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (for all but two weeks), her team has had to adjust rapidly to a rollercoaster of changing requirements in real time, describing herself as having worked ‘7 weeks in 7 days’ during the two week industry shutdown. The challenges included numerous legislative changes, increased compliance measures (such as the number of workers on site, masks, proof of vaccination status and QR codes), the uncertainties arising from lockdown and contractual issues. Alison spoke impressively about key personal and corporate lessons learned throughout this process including the necessity for clear and continuous communication with your workforce in challenging times and treating suppliers as partners.
Alison also referred to significant and positive changes in the industry as a result of the pandemic such as an increased focus on flexibility and the adoption of a previously unthinkable 5 day working week. These measures are likely to improve mental health and gender imbalances in the industry and have delivered immediate wellbeing benefits without any adverse impact on productivity.
With fixed price contracts being the norm, the construction industry is grappling with increasing prices and shortages of timber and other supplies. Under a fixed price contract, such costs cannot be passed on to the customer and must be absorbed within existing margins or contingencies. Alison acknowledged that this and the degree of risk transfer to contractors are key challenges at present, is one being considered by industry groups and will require a recalibration to address.
Alison concluded with her views on leadership, summarising these as:
- find something that you love
- have fun
- care for your people: listen to what they do and don’t say
- do not be afraid of showing vulnerability or assume that you will have all the answers available immediately.