By Trent Swindells
If Tasmania is to fully reap the benefits of a boom in construction projects, it must put the effort into developing its work force, according to the peak body representing Tasmania’s building and construction industry.
Master Builders Tasmania (MBT) executive director Michael Kerschbaum said that a recent boom in construction projects in Tasmania was expected to last for the next three to five years, but there was a real concern that there may not be enough skilled workers in Tasmania to meet demand.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for workforce development and to attract expat Tasmanians, who may have left the state during the downturn of the past four years in favour of the mining states, back to Tasmania now that mining is going off the boil,” Mr Kerschbaum said.
Following a June meeting with Minister for State Growth Matthew Groom to flag these workforce issues, MBT has been liaising with a number of commercial contractors on timelines for their projects.
Based on cash-flow projections, MBT is now in the process of modelling labour force requirements to ascertain exactly where demand will peak.
“From there, industry will need to come up with a range of suggestions and solutions for the government to consider,” Mr Kerschbaum said.
“These might include tax incentives or other moves to attract interstate-based labour, including expats, to Tasmania.”
Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics earlier this year show that over the 12 months to July 1, 2015, Tasmanian building approvals increased by 36 per cent, the strongest growth for that period of any state or territory.
Some of the higher profile projects under way include the Myer redevelopment, Parliament Square, university housing projects and the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, all of which are in Tasmania’s South.
“MBT also recognises that Tasmania is currently experiencing a two-speed economy and that more building and construction projects are sorely needed in the north of the state.
We’re particularly keen to discuss the timing of the delivery of the state government’s $68 million northern high schools project, which we are expecting to begin in early 2016,” Mr Kerschbaum said.
“It’s going to be very hard to get some of these commercial projects to change their time frames, but we have asked Treasurer Peter Gutwein to revisit his capital works schedule, so we may be able to delay some projects in order to provide a soft landing after other projects come to an end. The last thing we want to do is see the government pour fuel on the fire and exacerbate the workforce shortage when we need it least.
“The main concern with the Royal Hobart Hospital is that this is a very large project occurring during a very heated level of local activity. However, we do recognise that the Royal Hobart Hospital is a particularly important project that must go ahead, especially after all of the false starts that have been experienced over the years.
The $7 million refurbishments of the main hospital building’s C-Block are well under way and is expected to employ 70 local tradespeople, with further work packages to employ another 300 tradespeople.
Following the announcement that foreign workers were contracted to carry out some Spirit of Tasmania refurbishments, Leader of the Opposition Bryan Green said the Liberal Government needed to guarantee that opportunities for local businesses and workers would be maximised in the redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital.
“Throughout this process there’s been an expectation from Tasmanian business that they will get a look in wherever possible, both in the area of material supplies and subcontracting. This expectation has been matched by a firm commitment from both the Tasmanian government and the main contractor,” Mr Kerschbaum said.
“We expect that there will be some specialist work that will require interstate expertise, simply because Tasmania does not ave enough people to do that work.
According to Health Minister Michael Ferguson, the state government’s $657 million redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital will inject $1.6 billion into the Tasmanian economy, creating 4000 direct and indirect jobs.
“To date, all major refurbishment works packages procured by the managing contractor have been subcontracted to Tasmanian businesses, with Tasmanian business Fairbrother undertaking approximately $14 million of the refurbishment works,” Mr Ferguson said.
There is also a state government requirement for 20 per cent of the work on any publicly funded construction project to be given to apprentices, despite concerns that there are not enough apprentices available.
The refurbishment works at the Royal Hobart Hospital’s C-Block are continuing, as part of the Redevelopment Decanting Plan.
This will relocate existing services to enable the hospital’s B-Block to be demolished and the new K-Block to be built.
All construction works in C-Block will be completed by the end of 2015 and the demolition of B-Block is set to commence in April 2016.
“Tenders and contract negotiations are being finalised for other major works due to commence during September 2015,’’ Mr Ferguson said.