FuturePlace Interview Spotlight, Jon Davies

Creating a sustainable construction industry that is a great place to work.

Jon Davies is the CEO of the Australian Constructors Association, and a speaker in our upcoming Future of Construction Summit. We spoke to him about the work the ACA is doing to create a more sustainable future for the industry by improving industry culture, capability, capacity and skills, and through equitable and aligned commercial frameworks.


FuturePlace: Hi, Jon. You’re closing in on two years with ACA. How’s your experience been? Any takeaways or departures from the norm after leaving Queensland as CEO?

Jon Davies: It’s been really exciting to be given the opportunity to perform at an international level as opposed to a state-based level. The expectations are quite a bit higher and more demanding as well, but it’s good. It’s particularly exciting because the board that I report to are all the leaders of their respective organizations as opposed to when I was working at a state-based level, so it’s a great opportunity to really influence outcomes and drive reform. 


FP: What are you most excited to tackle in 2022?

JD: The sustainability of the construction industry. When I talk about sustainability, I’m really talking about the broader sense of the word in terms of how healthy the industry is. The industry has not been in great shape for quite some time, but I’m really happy that I’m in a position where I can influence a positive change within our industry. 


FP: In a past interview, you had said the pandemic had presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the industry more sustainable. Can you go into further detail about that?

JD: COVID struck economies around the world pretty hard, and so governments have responded to that by putting a lot more money towards infrastructure. Now the reason that infrastructure spending has gone up around the world is that it’s recognized that for every dollar you spend on an infrastructure project, there’s a three-dollar return onto the wider economy. 

Turning to the construction of infrastructure is what major leaders believe will do the heavy lifting of economic repair, but the problem is that the industry which they’re relying so heavily upon has not been in great shape. Worldwide, productivity in the construction industry hasn’t grown for 30 years, it hasn’t moved. Other sectors have gone up, but not ours. So this major reinvestment into the sector is that crucial opportunity because we have the leverage to say  “if you want to do this, you’ve got to help us help you. We’ve got to address the underlying reasons why our industry is not sustainable” to our governments.


FP: ACA has identified 3 key pillars for a sustainable future: “improved industry culture, sufficient capability, capacity and skills, and equitable and aligned commercial frameworks.” How did you identify these as the keys to a more sustainable industry?

JD: So we can’t take complete credit for those, in 2017 we joined up with our state governments to form the Construction Industry Leadership Forum. It was largely through discussions within that forum that we outlined those three key pillars. But the important part of the key pillars is that they’re all interlinked, you can’t fix every problem by just focusing on one pillar. 


FP: The construction industry hasn’t changed much over the years. You have been quoted saying roads are still built the same way the Romans did. Why hasn’t the industry been able to change?

JD: One reason is that governments still view money very simply as being the lowest possible price that they get for a project with the maximum amount of risk being passed over to the contractor, and that leaves no room for innovation. 


FP: You have said that the construction industry has to innovate to find ways to do more with less. Can you elaborate on that?

JD: Accomplishing more with less strain on the environment.


FP: Construction is the most male dominated industry in Australia, and it has the widest gender pay gap of any industry. Women make up just 12 per cent of the workforce. What is the industry doing to address this?

JD: The culture standard is the main thing. Diversity and inclusion leads directly into the improved industry culture pillar for a sustainable future, and a big focus on inclusion is addressing that pay gap and encouraging members to be more transparent in how they address that pay gap.


FP: With almost half the working population choosing to not work in the industry, it’s not surprising that there’s a notable workforce shortage. How do you plan to navigate that in the short and long term?

JD: We’ve got to get more women back into the industry. I say “back in” but the truth is there’s two problems: we have a problem attracting women into our industry and once we do attract them in, we have trouble retaining them. Sadly, the reasons for that are pretty clear, which include a history of negative culture and the demanding hours. Our industry works incredibly long hours and doesn’t account for weekends, in fact, quite often we have to work weekends. We’ve got this immense workload and pressure, and it’s not a good environment for mental health.

We just can’t afford to be missing out on that potential. Not just from the perspective of capability and capacity, but the smarts that we’re going to get from better engaging women into our industry. Right before I joined ACA, we expanded our board to have equal representation. Every one of our members puts forward a male and female director on the board, and the engagement we get from that inclusion is just amazing.

The Future of Construction Summit

Jon will be speaking at the Future of Construction Summit taking place on 4-5 May 2022. Following the success of the Future of Construction Summit in 2021, we’re pleased to partner with the Australian Constructors Association to deliver an expanded format in 2022. Combining a two-day conference with the annual Australian Construction Achievement Award, the Future of Construction Summit will bring together senior industry leaders to share ideas, learn and network.

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