How to respond to the shortage of experienced infrastructure professionals

Matthew Loughry

Anyone within the infrastructure industry is aware of the lack of experienced professionals required for the expanding pipeline of infrastructure projects on the east coast of Australia.

The source of the problem has no doubt been due to the lack of long-term infrastructure planning and commitment associated with the population growth in our major Capital cities. Insufficient infrastructure planning and investment have resulted in a flood of major urban transport initiatives by the Victorian and New South Wales Governments to cope with congestion and to sustain both living standards and productivity of the economy. The Federal Government is now also taking an active interest in transport infrastructure, and we can expect to see more projects coming on-line in the coming years. This should be good news for everyone involved; however, the evidence to date has been project cost-blow outs and delays. For sustainability, we need to deliver more with less.

One of the critical constraints to efficient expenditure has been the inability of the infrastructure industry to respond with adequate resourcing. Our industry is ill-prepared to cope with this fast-growing demand; therefore, there is a severe lack of experienced personnel available to work on these projects.

We are seeing young engineers promoted beyond their competence levels and senior personnel attracting significant salaries as competition for these resources are heating up. Our young professionals are committed and intelligent, but there is no substitute for the years of experience required for some of these projects. The old saying – “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, is more evident than ever within our industry today. Too often crucial experienced people are siloed away in secondments. Let’s stop doing this! There is an opportunity to leverage the knowledge of our experienced people in either leadership or mentoring roles of our young people.

Agonis Group has recognised the need to bridge this gap and has taken the initiative to recruit highly talented engineers with the commitment and drive to succeed, and assigned them with a “sponsor” for every secondment and assignment. Our sponsor provides the “hands-on” support to our young professionals with mentoring and leadership. They, in effect, become the conduit to the knowledge of the broader organisation and are responsible for keeping their leading-practice expertise up-to-date. This approach results in accelerated learning outcomes, ensuring mistakes are never repeated, and opportunities are shared. Bridging the competence gap between our junior and senior personnel can only occur through knowledge sharing and support.

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