How SHAPE Perth has grown its workforce by almost 40% despite WA labour shortages

Damian La Rosa

Originally published in Business News WA.

The construction industry is facing a critical labour shortage and many builders are struggling to meet the demands of the booming industry. Despite this trend, we have been able to grow the number of our people at SHAPE Perth by 37 per cent over the last year to keep up with the market growth.

SHAPE Perth is the Western Australian branch of national fitout and construction specialist, SHAPE Australia. Our growth is higher than any of SHAPE’s nine branches and 26 percentage points higher than its national average.

Demand outstripping supply

The Western Australian construction market is likely to grow to $30 billion by 2026-2027, including commercial construction reaching $4.85 billion, according to Master Builders WA. To meet this demand, Master Builders Australia estimates the Western Australian construction industry needs 55,000 more workers by 2026.

The shortage of skilled labour has always been a major challenge for the construction sector in Australia, and Western Australia is no exception. Since 2020, border closures interstate and overseas, demand outstripping supply, low representations of women and competition for labour from other booming industries, such as mining and infrastructure, have led to a worsening skills shortage.

The national Skills Priority List for 2022 identified Construction Managers as the fourth most in-demand role in the country. Many other management, professional, technician, trade and admin occupations relevant to the industry were also identified as in shortage. To combat this, the WA State Government recently announced a $47.6 million boost to the building and construction workforce in its 2023-24 Budget, which will include initiatives to ramp up local training and attract skilled workers from overseas and interstate.

Growing with the market

As many building companies grapple with the pent-up demand and labour pressures, SHAPE Perth has excelled in this fast-paced market. Much like the work we deliver, we react quickly and effectively to changing needs by providing exceptional service to our client and subcontractor market.

This has enabled steady growth of our team over the last 18 months to 55 people, supported by a number of long-term team members in project and site management.

Our approach has always been to focus on the career and personal development of our people, while also attracting diverse talent, from university graduates to experienced professionals.

“As many building companies grapple with the pent-up demand and labour pressures, SHAPE Perth has excelled in this fast-paced market.”

Below, I share my 5 tips for attracting and retaining great talent

1. Take a personalised approach to learning and development

Opportunities for career progression and the ability to learn new skills keeps employees engaged and satisfied and helps to attract new talent. Each person has their own unique career and life goals, and development should be focused on the individual’s needs.

We believe in a promote from within philosophy and invest heavily in the training and development of our people through personalised development plans, mentorship programs, and access to an array of education and training resources. Our diverse portfolio of projects, from large-scale fitouts to new build projects, modular construction and façade remediation, also provides our people with endless career opportunities. In fact, among our senior leadership team, the average length of service is over 12 years.

2. Attract underrepresented groups

With one of the lowest representations of women of any industry in Australia, the construction industry needs to attract talent from underrepresented groups, particularly women, to avoid workforce shortages. For over a decade, SHAPE has implemented numerous programs and policies to encourage the participation of women and challenge gender biases within the industry, backed by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan. Initiatives include promoting flexibility, unconscious biases training and recruitment campaigns to target women in underrepresented areas of the business. This has resulted in female participation at SHAPE increasing to 29 per cent – higher than the industry average of 25 per cent (according to WEGA).

3. Support a healthy work/life balance

A healthy work/life balance leads to improved productivity, employee wellbeing, and acquisition and retention. We offer many benefits to help our people balance work and personal life their way, including flexible work arrangements and family support benefits. We also provide new pathways for our people to grow and build their careers in other markets through nationwide secondment and relocation opportunities.

4. Foster the next generation

A cadet program can help businesses avoid the war for talent. Through our cadetship, we hire graduates from construction-related degrees to support project teams throughout the delivery of a project and beyond. By taking a grassroots approach, we can grow the next generation of leaders and build a more diverse workforce, with 58 per cent of our FY23 cadet hires identifying as female.

5. Build a people-focused company culture

To attract and retain the best people, businesses need to put people at the heart of their strategy and build a culture that supports and values them. Our constructive culture is a result of our commitment to shaping a diverse and inclusive workforce, providing initiatives to promote the health, wellbeing and personal and professional development of our people, and training our leaders. Not only are we recognised as a ‘Great Place to Work’ by the Great Place to Work Institute, but we are also a six-time winner of the Human Synergistics Sustainability Award for Culture. Our award-winning culture is also the reason many past employees return to SHAPE. One of our two Project Directors at SHAPE Perth has returned after spending more than five years abroad in the UK.

Read the original article published in Business News WA here.