Australia’s construction sector experiences a tech-based rebound

With Australia’s economy now shifting strongly from recovery to expansion as a result of a recovery in housing construction in early 2021 the construction sector is poised to expand significantly and investment in communications technology will be a critical enabler of this growth, according to research released by Optus Business.

The Construction Industry Pulse report compiles insights from 400 respondents in the Australian construction industry and demonstrates how investments in technology will be critical for helping businesses achieve their goals for 2021 and beyond.

The report found that despite the economic and resource challenges of 2020, confidence amongst construction business owners was rated ‘high’ with larger organisations – employing between 200 and 300 staff – the most optimistic about their prospects for the next 12 months, with 32% being ‘very confident’ in their financial growth.

The top three nominated areas for investment and growth in the next financial year were staff training, salary increases, and business technology.

These investments would be made in support of strategy, personalised solutions, and the ongoing use of interactive documents.

New employment expected

The growth of the construction sector will also translate to new hiring. Businesses with 5-19 employees were most bullish about employing new staff, with 22% reporting they would like to increase employee numbers.

Across all businesses, additional priorities included employment of new and relevant skill sets (29%), investment in dependable networks (23%), training in new technology (23%), and the ability to work from home (19%).

Examining their interest in new technology further revealed that 50% would invest more in mobile phones, 47% in laptops, 14% in mobile broadband solutions, and 27% in tablets.

Respondents’ interest in dependable networks came from their need to manage large data volumes securely and affordably. These investments would also be supported by applications and business solutions training for employees.

“These results clearly show the important role communications technology plays in underpinning Australia’s construction sector and its ability to rebound in 2021 and beyond,” said Libby Roy, Managing Director Optus Business.

“Secure and reliable high bandwidth connections are absolutely essential in construction, not just for supporting day-to-day operations, but also for moving the massive data files that define construction processes, while also ensuring smooth work-from-home scenarios.”

“It’s fantastic to see emphasis on bringing in new skills and training workers in technology.”

“As the market for digitally skilled workers tightens, it is vital that construction companies build training programs that can deliver the pipeline of skills needed to ensure they can get the most out of their technology investments.”

Ms Roy said Australian Government initiatives such as the $12.7 million expansion of the Digital Solutions – Australian Small Business Advisory Service program (announced in the latest Federal Budget) would go a long way in helping the sector implement training programs.

This program is important for smaller construction businesses, which were more likely to rely on a ‘bare minimum’ technology approach (81%), while 70% of larger companies harnessed technology to improve their operations and updated it more often (71%).

Cyber Security measures lacking

The report also showed that larger organisations are more aware of the potential threat from cyber-attacks, with 47% expressing concern about the impact of viruses and attacks on company data.

However, only 47% of all organisations reported having defensive measures in place.

This was despite 30% of larger businesses (200-300 staff) reporting having already been attacked, along with 7% of small businesses (1-4 staff).

“Being exposed to cyber-attacks creates another level of company risk with legislative or regulatory consequences, as there are severe implications relating to breaches of cyber security – especially when linked to critical infrastructure, and privacy breaches,” said Roy.

“For any business, it’s important to protect personal, business and financial information.”

“At Optus Business, we listen to our customers and have programs in place to help business customers build their awareness of cyber threats and defensive strategies.”

“Optus business also trains your staff to avoid taking actions that can weaken the defenses. For us it is about connecting customers to technology that improves their lives and business.”

And as with most industries, the report found the construction sector had to contend with a substantial proportion of workers (30%) working from home, although the nature of the industry meant a considerable proportion remained onsite (20%).

Larger organisations were more likely to report they had implemented comprehensive support offerings for at-home workers, including offering information and support services and allowing employees to take hardware and equipment such as monitors home.

But despite these investments, workers in larger businesses were least likely to feel they were well-prepared and supported to work at home (31%), and more workers in smaller companies felt well supported (45%).