Is now the time to move to Australia?

Having spent a number of years working in Australia recruiting in the construction sector, I can speak with experience about some of the differences between the countries for construction professionals in particular as well as offer some practical advice on what to expect generally.

Firstly, the economy in Australia is currently very strong, indeed the construction industry is incredibly buoyant. For a bit of historical reference, the steady increase in construction activity seen in the 10 years before the GFC (that's 'Global Financial Crisis' for those of you who don't yet speak aussie, aka the recession) propelled Australia on to the world stage from its provincial roots. With its world class restaurant scene, architectural innovation, etc, Melbourne in particular started to pick up 'world's most liveable city' accolades galore. The construction activity in the traditional real estate sectors that had helped this transformation abated, of course, when the rest of the world collapsed in 2008. The difference in Australia during these dark days, however, was the timely boom in the mining and oil & gas sectors that occurred during these very same years. It was a strange, two-speed economy in Oz with places like Brisbane and Perth becoming a hive of construction activity whereas projects in the more traditional hubs of Melbourne and Sydney ground almost to a halt. I say 'almost' because the government did at least initiate a well-received injection of cash into the education sector in an attempt to keep local construction businesses alive, funding what was known as the national BER programme (Building Education Revolution) which 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, seemingly one step ahead thanks to its natural resources and government initiatives keeping things afloat during the hardest years. Interestingly, as the mining sectors now dip, commercial and residential construction output is extremely high again and Sydney in particular is going nothing less than 'nuts'. Infrastructure too is taking off with the NSW transport system getting the investment it deserves and new highways and rail links that have been in the pipeline for years in Victoria finally receiving government funding. As real estate prices soar in response and salaries continue to climb beyond the believable (for those with local experience I might add, more on that later), the question is begged as to when the bubble will burst for Australia.

In the meantime, the green light for go currently flashing down under in the construction market means resources are very much needed. Which is where you come in. Of course, visas and the right to work remain the stumbling blocks but with the government having recently raised the age for holiday workers to 35 enabling you to work for two years unrestricted, things are getting easier. Sponsorship may be available for some where professional skills shortages come into play or once you have some aussie experience under your belt but as ever, you cannot expect to be offered this based on a skype interview having never visited the place. Employers will want to see some level of commitment before even entertaining the idea of sponsorship. Anyone feel a winter-sun, long-haul trip coming up?!

Luckily, given the bulk of you reading this will be surveyors of sorts, you are in demand. In particular, UK trained Quantity Surveyors are very highly regarded in Australia. This said, much of the commercial responsibility of a building project falls onto the Project Managers over there with Contract Administrators on site supporting them doing exactly that, contract administration only. If your background as a QS is in construction, don't expect your role in Australia with a builder (a term used far more frequently than 'contractor' by the way, which is reserved for the civil sector only) to necessarily be as diverse or challenging for this reason. If your background as a QS is in cost planning and consulting, there are far fewer consultancies in the Australian market than in the UK, even proportionately, so your options are slightly more limited. Just some things to consider.

After all, the market generally is much smaller, despite the fact it costs more to build anything over there thanks to a strong union culture which means trades are expensive. So a $100M project in Oz sounds large enough when converted into pounds, but you'll be surprised at what $100M can or can't get you as a developer.

As for the projects themselves, high-rise is the name of the game. With town planners embracing escalating skylines and an intense asian influence on design given the geographical proximity and huge overseas investment market out there, you will certainly get to work on some exciting commercial and residential developments to rival some of the world's tallest and flashiest towers.

Turning to income, Australia is expensive, certainly comparable with London in many ways. There is no getting away from this. Salaries are high to compensate but then so are the taxes. However, don't expect that just because you have worked on some of London's most iconic projects to earn 'top dollar'. Australian employers, like anywhere, like to see Australian experience. You will have to take a step back, get your foot in the door and climb back up from there. To expect anything else is unrealistic.

Nonetheless, your money will definitely buy you a whole lot more in terms of lifestyle, that much is guaranteed. 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 entirely when it comes to lifestyle. Your quandary, of course, is the 12,000 miles distance from loved ones back home in the UK, the sense of isolation you might feel from the rest of the world (e.g. forget mini breaks to Europe) and perhaps the odd snake and spider to take into account.

Think this article has some bite?! Contact Melani King for career advice whether you are considering a move abroad or a little closer to home on melani@heronpartnership.com