Closing the skills gap to meet Victoria’s booming infrastructure program
Webuild (previously Salini Impregilo) is one of the largest infrastructure companies in the world but it is at a local level that it makes its greatest impacts.
For over a century Webuild has added immeasurable value to the communities in which it has had a presence through the transfer of technological and operational expertise, providing local employment and training opportunities and contributing to the social and economic fabric of local communities from Addis Ababa, Copenhagen and Las Vegas to Perth and Sydney. And the company now has its sights on Melbourne.
Webuild, which is listed on the Milan Stock Exchange, entered the Australian market in 2013 when it won the NSW Government contract to design and build the skytrain bridge and viaduct, the signature component of the Sydney Metro Northwest rapid transit link.
In 2016, it was awarded the WA Government contract to design, construct and maintain the Forrestfield‐Airport Link, a rail link connecting the Perth CBD with the city’s eastern suburbs and Perth Airport. Webuild is the lead partner (80%) in the joint venture with Perth-based contractor NRW Holdings (20%).
Earlier this year, Webuild, lead partner (65%) in the Future Generation joint venture with Australian engineering company Clough (35%), won the to build the new Snowy 2.0 hydroelectric power station. The company has since opened an office in Cooma in southern NSW.
While this recent activity has cemented Webuild’s presence in Australia, the company’s relationship with Australia in fact goes back several decades when companies that formed the current Webuild won the Victorian Government contract to construct the Melbourne Underground Loop between 1975 and 1981.
Webuild’s Executive Director Asia Pacific, Marco Assorati, is eager to re-establish links with Victoria.
I would like to have opened a Melbourne office yesterday, but certainly it is our intention to increase our footprint in Victoria in a very important way
Webuild presence in Australia comes with an enviable international reputation. For five years the company has been ranked No.1 in the water infrastructure sector by US industry bible Engineering News-Record (ENR) and in 2018 it achieved Top 10 ranking in ENR’s , the only non-North American firm to do so. It is also a leader in the transport infrastructure sector, being involved in landmark projects in rail and metro systems around the world.[IF CUT]
Francesco Lauria, Technical Manager with Webuild Australia, says the company’s international portfolio of award-winning infrastructure projects enables it to introduce innovative approaches to sustainability, workplace safety and design, as well as the latest technological and operational expertise, to the Australian infrastructure market.
A report by McKinsey & Co, , observes that Australia is “among the most advanced economies globally” in its utilisation of collaborations between the public and private sectors in the delivery of infrastructure.
Noting that Australian investment in transport, utilities and social infrastructure is occurring at an “unprecedented scale”, McKinsey forecasts infrastructure investment in these segments to increase from $26 billion in 2016 to $77 billion in 2020.
Drawing on innovation and best practices from infrastructure companies around the world “will help Australia’s infrastructure sector achieve a step change in innovation, ensuring the next wave of infrastructure projects has a successful outcome”, McKinsey concludes.
Francesco Lauria says collaborations have been a critical component of Webuild’s business model in Australia.
Every project is an opportunity to add value through partnerships, to bring new ideas and innovations to the table and to build industry capability, including the development of tomorrow’s skilled infrastructure workers
When Webuild enters a market it does so with an international track record of fostering the development of new talent.
The company employs 70,000 people internationally, 45% of whom are aged below 35 years.
“The group lends particular attention to young people and their training,” says Marco Assorati. “Investing to attract and develop young talent is essential to the company's long-term vision”.
This focus on “investing in a new generation of professionals” is reflected in the network of alliances with universities around the world, including the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Webuild formed a partnership with UTS in 2018 through the “Tomorrow’s Builders” scholarship program for students from the university’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology and the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building. Under the scholarship, two UTS students a year for the next five years will be awarded $10,000 and offered a paid internship with Webuild.
Webuild is also encouraging the participation of women in the engineering sector through UTS’s Women in Engineering program.
The dean of the UTS School of Design, Architecture and Building, Professor Elizabeth Mossop, says the partnership with Webuild will also include events and research to foster debate on public infrastructure development.
We are very keen to collaborate with Webuild in research and education for the development of intelligent infrastructure for Australian cities
In September 2020, Webuild entered into a collaboration with Melbourne School of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, the top ranked Australian university for academic reputation according to QS World University Rankings 2020, putting it in 15th place worldwide.
Melbourne-based Plenary Group, a long-term investor, developer and manager of public infrastructure projects, shares Webuild’s focus on university partnerships to develop the next generation of builders and engineers.
Plenary’s portfolio of Public-Private Partnership infrastructure projects includes Melbourne’s High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT) project, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre and in Melbourne’s south-east.
As a member of the contracted by the Victorian Government to design, build, finance and maintain the 260km Western Roads Upgrade, Plenary has formed a partnership with Victoria University Polytechnic to establish the Netflow Future Skills Academy.
Damien Augustinus, Managing Director, Origination, with Plenary, says the academy will provide bespoke skills training that can be accessed by subcontractors and suppliers throughout the 23-year project.
Netflow will work with Victoria University Polytechnic to assist in the development of the Civil Construction qualification, currently not available, which will become the dominant career path for trainees on the project
The courses will enable full career progression over the life of the project from new entrants through to supervisory and management positions.
Melbourne-based Winslow Constructors also understands the need to maintain skill levels, particularly as the Victorian Government ramps up infrastructure spending.
With over 30 years in the civil construction industry, Winslow CEO Trevor Lockwood says the company maintains optimum employment levels and training programs irrespective of economic conditions.
We don’t allow the ups and down of construction cycles to determine the make-up of our business. Over many years we have ensured that we have the training programs and employment opportunities in place to create certainty and stability for the company and for our workforce. By steadily developing our workforce competencies over time we ensure that we will be ready with a full complement of skills as new infrastructure projects come on line
Winslow employs over 100 apprentices, trainees and cadets and actively sources graduates and undergraduates from RMIT and Deakin universities for their graduate training program. And it wants to go further.
“We’re looking to expand our range of programs with other education providers”, Lockwood says.
A strategic, long-term commitment to building skill capabilities is essential, according to McKinsey, which has warned of a “capacity and capability gap” in the booming infrastructure sector.
“Ways to bridge the capacity and capability gap going forward include managing both the demand for workers and their supply, including upskilling the current workforce, reframing the culture of the industry to retain more talent and seeking ways to increase the talent pool and train the future workforce”, McKinsey says in its infrastructure report.
Webuild, Plenary Group and Winslow Constructors couldn’t agree more.