On Monday 27 June, Downer convened a roundtable discussion to mark the conclusion of its Victorian industry roadshow.   Downer executives joined representatives from across industry, including the Industry Capability Network (ICN), LeadWest and Federation University of Australia, to discuss the critical role infrastructure projects play in realising a sustainable manufacturing industry capable of supporting economic development and employment growth.

In partnership with ICN Victoria, Downer completed three events during June – one each in Ballarat, Bendigo and Hoppers Crossing – attracting attendance by over 500 businesses.  The ‘Doing Business with Downer’ roadshow not only provided a valuable touch point for local industry with an interest in partnering with Downer, but also engendered greater understanding amongst SMEs of the opportunities and challenges associated with winning work in infrastructure program supply chains. 

Building on themes from the roadshow, the roundtable discussion focused on the importance of building industry relationships, investing in SME capability, and creating pathways for innovation and skills development.

Don Matthews, CEO ICN Victoria, started with a comment on broad Victorian Government industry policy settings designed to boost local content within the delivery of declared strategic projects with an overall value in excess of $12.4 billion. “To be able to meet these local content requirements, prime contractors need to understand the capabilities of the sector.”

Sergio Cinerari, CEO Downer Infrastructure Services said the entire industry engagement landscape was changing. He said Downer valued SMEs who were able to demonstrate a value proposition beyond Downer’s existing business that talked to the end user. “It’s not just about what Downer wants, it’s what the Victorian community needs,” he said. “Prime contractors and SMEs have to change the way we relate to each other to build capability. When we are looking for partners, we want someone who comes to us and shows us how 1+1=3.”

Geographical proximity to efficient delivery of infrastructure development and maintenance projects was also discussed.  “Globalisation has meant regional proximity is no longer the opportunity, or barrier, it once was. Instead, it is building relationships that are increasingly the key to driving IP,” Mr Cinerari said.

Likewise, Mr Matthews said SMEs needed to think about building capability in terms of sector advantage in five to ten years’ time. “Timelines are important when you think of infrastructure delivery.  Over the lifetime of an infrastructure project SMEs will build capability, which through transferable skills will then enter into a global supply chain. That is where the long term focus must be for industry,” he said.

Skills development was the last theme for discussion. Mr Matthews began with a dire warning. “There is a significant decline in the number of apprentices and trainees in the training system. If Victorian manufacturing is going to thrive in the future this potential massive skill shortage needs to be addressed by industry.’’

Mr Cinerari said Downer was investing in industry skills development through graduate workplace programs, and through partnering with tertiary institutions, such as Downer’s recent two-year commitment to partner with Federation University Australia on education and training. This agreement included $160,000 funding to support eight student industry placements. “We are a regionally dispersed business, so it makes sense for us to target future Downer leaders from regional areas, who want to work and live in the regions.”