Managing infrastructure projects of the future

David Jenkins
August 5, 2021

It was heartening to see the Australian Government announce $17 billion in infrastructure and road projects in the May Federal budget; however, a commitment of this size needs to be matched by an investment in the training of the professionals who will bring these projects to reality, and safely.

The government said that $15 billion of these infrastructure projects are “shovel ready”, $1 billion is funding for local road infrastructure and $1 billion for road safety upgrades.

With funding of that scale, it is not too late to complement the capital expenditure with funding to support training and accreditation for the professionals who will fulfil these infrastructure aspirations.

Managing beyond the construction phase

When governments think of project management, it could be said that most of the focus goes into the construction phase. However, what happens after the asset is completed? I feel there needs to be greater consideration given to what happens after construction, as this is just as important to ensure a strong return on investment.

This is where an asset manager takes over and ensures projects are properly cared for to increase longevity. Asset managers are highly valuable to governments and other asset owners as they manage a variety of assets to deliver the greatest benefit to communities. Governments need to have the right qualified professionals on hand to keep the assets performing at optimal levels.

Upskilling governments in asset management

All levels of government are responsible for managing community assets; as a result, I believe they should prioritise the adequate training of staff when it comes to increasing the life of current projects.

It would make sense that when new infrastructure projects are announced, a portion of the budget is ring-fenced to make sure there is a workforce adequately trained to continually manage the asset. Whether this means skills development is a condition of receiving funding or stronger screening to ensure staff have the appropriate credentials.

This is particularly important in light of Local Government NSW recently revealing in its 2021-2022 State Budget – NSW Local Government Priorities that 80% of NSW councils are experiencing skills shortages in fields such as engineering, asset management and planning. This highlights the government’s need to consider further investment in education in these areas to secure a strong and qualified workforce to manage an infrastructure boom.

One such region that has looked at this area is South Australia. The state government has funded asset management training in six local councils to upskill current staff and provide them with the skills to properly manage a range of assets going forward.

Extending the life of investments

The infrastructure projects announced by the Federal Government are vital to the nation’s ongoing prosperity, but a lack of investment in training introduces an element of major risk. One of the major risks includes a reduced lifespan of an asset due to poor/ineffective management leading to reduced safety for the community.

As a long-term solution, the Federal Government needs to consider the roll out of skills development on a national level to protect Australians for the long term.

Ensuring that the personnel implementing the program are equipped with the right skills, will optimise the outcomes and deliver the best value for these significant government investments.

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David Jenkins
David Jenkins is the CEO of the Institute of Public Works Engineers Australasia (IPWEA). IPWEA represents around 5000 members in Australia and New Zealand and close to 60 percent work in the local government sector.
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