New South Wales Infrastructure Skills Legacy Program
City or state
New South Wales
Greenfield and brownfield
Primary delivery improvement theme impacted
Capability and capacity
In January 2016 the New South Wales (NSW) Government had a four-year infrastructure pipeline of AUD68 billion.
From March 2016 the NSW Government began trialling skills and diversity targets on NSW Government infrastructure projects through the Infrastructure Skills Legacy Program (ISLP).
The program was further supported by actions from the NSW 10-point commitment to the construction sector in July 2018, which had the overall aim of improving skills, training, and diversity for the construction industry workforce.
Since July 2021 this infrastructure pipeline has further grown to a value of AUD108.5 billion (USD79.5 billion) over the four years to 2024-25.
The NSW Government faced a shortage of skilled workers in the labour market despite ongoing requirements from these projects, and an ongoing lack of workforce diversity in the infrastructure industry – particularly with respect to women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and apprentices.
The skills shortages were particularly relevant in projects involving complex tunnelling work and use of emerging construction technologies, such as Sydney Metro, WestConnex, and Western Sydney Airport.
In times of such a labour shortage, some countries have seen the same set of specialist skilled resources move between contracting organisations without increasing the skill or capacity of the overall labour market.
The NSW Government, in consultation with the construction industry, mandated skills, training and employment targets under the ISLP in July 2020 for all major government infrastructure projects, with the objective of increasing diversity among the construction workforce.
The ISLP is similar to a highly successful program incorporated into Sydney Metro – a 66 km, 31 station metro railway line. Under the program, a Workforce Participation Strategy was developed that saw works contracts include minimum workforce development and training targets aligned to scope of works and relevant skills shortages, a minimum percentage of workforce from targeted diversity groups, and an ‘Infrastructure Skills Centre’ that provided pre-employment training programs for diversity groups, and hosts pre-commencement training for Sydney Metro workers.
For projects over AUD100 million (USD78 million) the ISLP sets out specific participation targets, including:
Requiring 20% of the total project workforce to be ‘learning workers’
Requiring 20% of all trade positions to be apprentices
Doubling the number of women in trades to 2%
Applying the relevant Aboriginal procurement policy
Requiring 8% of the total project workforce to be less than 25 years of age
Reporting the employment and training outcomes for people from the project’s local region.
For projects over AUD10 million the ISLP targets include:
Requiring 20% of all trade positions to be apprentices
Applying the relevant Aboriginal procurement policy.
NSW construction industry
March 2016 – NSW Government approved a staged implementation of the ISLP with at least two demonstration projects, one in metropolitan Sydney and one in a regional area, with a further staged expansion to other projects.
March 2016 – Sydney Metro City and south-west were identified as an ISLP pilot.
As of June 2021, the defined workforce participation targets were exceeded across all projects falling under the ISLP, with:
29% of the total project workforce consisting of ‘learning workers’
28% of all trade positions consisting of apprentices
4% of all trade positions staffed by women in non-traditional roles
15% of the total project workforce being less than 25 years of age
8% of the total project workforce being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Following the pilot experience with Sydney Metro, Lismore Base Hospital Redevelopment and the WestConnex M4East projects, the ISLP has been incorporated into other major infrastructure projects such as Parramatta Light Rail, Princes Highway upgrade, Clarence Correctional Centre, Wagga Wagga Health Service Redevelopment, Randwick Campus Redevelopment, Campbelltown Hospital, and Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline.
Of the 5,572 participants in the Sydney Metro Industry Curriculum training program, 58% had no formal qualifications, 39% required English language support, and 7% had low levels of literacy and numeracy.
Fourteen Sydney Metro pre-employment programs have been delivered, providing accredited entry-level technical skills and employability training for the long-term unemployed and other under-represented groups in the workforce. Programs are designed to prepare job ready candidates for entry-level opportunities. To date, 148 people have graduated from the Sydney Metro pre-employment program with 44% Aboriginal participation, 95% successful completion and 84% job outcomes. After successfully completing the pre-employment program many of the candidates have commenced training for a Certificate Level II traineeship or Level III apprenticeship to further develop their skills.
Key lessons learnt
The NSW Government took learnings from working with major infrastructure projects, including Sydney Metro, about the effectiveness of driving workforce skills and diversity outcomes though its implementation of specific contractual requirements and contractor incentives and abatements, and robust ongoing reporting requirements.
A targeted approach that tailors initiatives and targets to each project’s scope of works and specific associated skills shortage areas was found to be more effective than a blanket industry-wide approach.
The experience with the Sydney Metro workforce development strategy found that it takes time and effort to move from incorporating training targets to adopting a collaborative model where stakeholders are willing to invest their own resources into workforce development and see ‘business sense’ in doing so.
Contractual workforce diversity and training targets need to be specific and tailored to the project delivery phase and the specific type of work being contracted, as broad project-wide targets may be very difficult to achieve for some contract packages.
A dedicated resource on the project is critical to achieving skills and diversity targets.
Support from the NSW Government in partnership with the construction industry is a key driver to the success of the program.