William Cox, Managing Director – Australia & New Zealand, Aurecon
“Responding to global mega-trends like climate, energy, water, food, transportation and security is about finding solutions to large-scale challenges.
For today’s workforce and the talent we will need in the future, that’s not just about building more infrastructure, but increasingly about the creation and use of SMART Infrastructure by that talent.
Defined as the integration of infrastructure assets with enabling technologies and big data analytics, SMART infrastructure is helping us adapt and use existing assets far more efficiently and effectively.
What this means for the engineering workforce
As digital tools become more advanced and automated, with a capacity for self-learning, the engineer must evolve even further to ensure their relevance within a disrupted and increasingly digital-based economy.
Today, it is possible to get a whole lot of data on an asset – whether it’s a pavement, pipe network or infrastructure network. Instead of having a person/team work through copious amounts of data (sometimes taking weeks), we can program a machine to pick up defects and variability and deliver a comprehensive report which informs decision making and asset management.
Likewise, drone technology is enhancing spatial surveys, and laser-scanning is diversifying the capabilities of survey teams to deliver rich data sets.
Technology is also changing areas such as tunnel design and geotechnical mapping of rock faces. There are significant health and safety benefits to not having to put people into dangerous situations during construction. This technology is saving time, delivering a high level of accuracy and removing people from harm’s way.
Ultimately, through all of these tools, we’re providing clients with richer project data and better outcomes.
Change is shaping a new workforce
The ability for engineers to harvest this data and maximise the potential uses of these digital tools will be an essential part of how we work in the future. It means that the skills of the people performing these roles are going to be very different. Aurecon’s current workforce has nine per cent devoted to digital capabilities and this is expected to rise to 40 per cent in the future. Increasingly, we are employing graduates with both engineering and digital qualifications.
The demand for graduate talent with both technical as well as digital skills will only increase as will the range of skills they will need to meld with their technical expertise. The 630 digital experts currently in Aurecon’s 7000 global workforce cover both design and delivery and include skills such as digital modelling, digital management and information management, followed by design solution development, digital visualisations and computational design.
There’s an upside – as we use multidisciplinary skills to tackle complex client problems – we are learning, innovating and inventing. It is highly stimulating.
But there’s also an unknown element. Digital disruption and the rapidly advancing areas of robotics, programming and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs across industries. And the infrastructure industry will not be spared.
With many areas already under threat, and practitioners feeling the pressure to up-skill, there is also a talent shortfall within the industry, and a significant lack of diversity, including gender.
Unfortunately, there is still a perception in our broader society that engineering and technology is not a place to be for women. As a result, we are missing out on a significant part of the workforce. And diversity of thought is what provides the best innovative solutions to the problems that our governments and communities face.
Currently, the percentage of women in the industry is moving in the right direction. Highlighting the range of opportunities and employment prospects, when compared to many other industries, is important. However, the engineering and the technology professions have a way to go in terms of selling that story.
The messages we need to deliver to turn this around
Roles of the future across our industry will offer the ability to work with a range of skills that are not all just hard technology. For example, skills in stakeholder engagement are becoming increasingly critical when it comes to infrastructure design, delivery and management.
In a recent design-led thinking project at Aurecon, we interviewed our clients to better understand the characteristics and skills that would be needed by employees of the future. Through this process, eight Aurecon Attributes were identified as key to delivering an outstanding service. None of them were technical. Instead, our research found that being resourceful, co-creative, engaging, an unconventional thinker, sense-maker, inquisitive, commercial and fearless were valued above all else.
Communicating this to a diverse workforce is imperative to attracting the skills and talent we need.
Preparing today for tomorrow’s workforce
The millennial workforce, the emerging professionals and our next generation of leaders are telling us how they want to work. Providing those opportunities will be an important factor in recruiting a diverse and talent-rich workforce for the future.
The reality of people coming to a single office is very much a thing of the past. With digital tools and remote working patterns evolving, the virtual office is putting employees in different office spaces all over the world. At Aurecon, we have certainly seen this shift within our own business practices, utilising teams in Asia and South Africa to help us deliver here in Australia. Even within many of our major locations, you have people set up in remote offices, some of them based in the offices of our clients, as well as people that are working at home.
We have also pulled apart and redesigned a number of our offices to create work spaces that lend themselves to a more co-creative workshop style. We use these spaces when we bring in clients and partners to generate inclusive ways of working. We want to create an environment where people can collaborate and thrive – to get the best outcomes.
By allowing tomorrow’s workforce to operate in ways and locations that they find effective, we can elicit creativity and build diversity within our workplaces. By doing this, we deliver benefits for our industry, employees, clients and the communities and ecosystems that we serve.
There are unprecedented career opportunities in the infrastructure industry – for people with multidisciplinary skills, for women, for creative thinkers. And, by collaborating together in new ways, infrastructure holds the potential to dramatically improve communities.”