Is Now the Time to Move to Australia?

Melbourne Skyline

There are a number of significant differences between the Australian and UK construction industries. Having spent several years recruiting in Australia’s built environment, I can speak about these differences with some experience, as well as offering some practical advice.

Strong economy

The economy in Australia is currently very strong and the construction industry incredibly buoyant. The steady increase in activity seen in the 10 years before the recession propelled Australia on to the world stage, and Melbourne in particular started to pick up international accolades thanks to its world-class restaurant scene and architectural innovation.

The construction activity in the traditional real-estate sectors that had helped this transformation abated with the 2008 financial collapse. However, there was a timely boom in the mining and oil and gas sectors during these very same years. It became a strange, two-speed economy. Places such as Brisbane and Perth became a hive of construction activity, whereas projects in the more traditional hubs of Melbourne and Sydney ground almost to a halt.

To keep local construction businesses alive, the government initiated a well-received injection of cash into education. This funding, known as the national Building Education Revolution Programme, meant hundreds of publicly funded schools got revamped or built from scratch.

As the rest of the world slowly started to recover, so too did Australia. Its natural resources and government initiatives kept things afloat during the hardest years. Interestingly, as the mining sectors now dip, commercial and residential construction output is extremely high again, especially in Sydney.

Infrastructure, too, is taking off, with the New South Wales transport system getting the investment it deserves. New highways and rail links in Victoria, which have been in the pipeline for years, are also finally receiving government funding. As real-estate prices soar in response and salaries continue to climb, the question now is when the bubble will burst for Australia.

Nevertheless, the flourishing construction market down under means resources are very much needed.

Visa or sponsorship?

Of course, visas and the right to work remain the stumbling blocks for Brits looking to make the move down under. The Australian government recently raised the age for British holiday workers to 35, though, giving more young surveyors the opportunity to work for two years unrestricted.

Sponsorship may be available for some where professional skills shortages come into play, or once you have some Australian experience under your belt. Employers will want to see some commitment before entertaining the idea, however.

Surveying in Australia

Luckily, surveyors are in demand, and UK-trained quantity surveyors in particular are highly regarded in Australia. This said, much of the commercial responsibility of a building project falls on project managers, who are supported by contract administrators on site although only in this specialism.

If your background as a quantity surveyor is in construction, don’t expect your role in Australia with a builder – a term used far more frequently than contractor, which is reserved for the public sector only – to be as diverse or challenging as it is in the UK. If your quantity surveying background is in cost planning and consulting, bear in mind that there are far fewer consultancies in the Australian market than in the UK, even proportionately.

The Australian market is generally much smaller, despite the fact it costs more to build anything there. The difference in cost is due to a strong union culture, which means trades are expensive. So a $100m project in Australia sounds large enough when converted into pounds, but it’s also surprising what $100m can or can’t get you as a developer.

As for the projects themselves, high-rise is the name of the game. Town planners have taken to escalating skylines, and there is a significant Asian influence on design. Surveyors will have the opportunity to work on some exciting commercial and residential developments, rivaling some of the world’s tallest and flashiest towers.

Salary expectations

In terms of income, Australia is expensive, and so is comparable to London in many ways. There is no getting away from this. Salaries are high to compensate, but then so are the taxes. Neither should you expect to earn top dollar just because you have worked on some of London's most iconic projects. Australian employers like to see Australian experience.

Nonetheless, your money will definitely buy you a whole lot more in terms of lifestyle. The sun shines all year long, access to the good life is for all, and kids stay kids for longer. It is, all in all, a very happy place and much of it will meet your expectations.

Melani King, Heron Partnership

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