Skills not an issue, for now: NBN Co

NBN Co responds to Access Economics' suggestions that the mining boom and Queensland flood repairs could delay the NBN rollout

Competition for skills caused by the resources boom and efforts to rebuild post-flood Queensland will not delay the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), at least in the short term, according to NBN Co.

Addressing recent doubts raised by research firm Access Economics over NBN Co’s ability to source the skills it needs to complete the NBN on time, an NBN Co spokesperson said the deliberate strategy of rolling out the NBN in stages would help it manage the issue of skills sourcing and retention.

“Because of this graduated start, we don’t anticipate an immediate impact on skills availability from the flood reconstruction work,” the spokesperson told Computerworld Australia.

“However, ensuring there is a skilled workforce available for the project in the longer term, work is a vital component of what is a complex supply chain of labour, materials and equipment.”

Presently, NBN Co itself employs 630 people, but will rely heavily on contractors to supply the majority of the staff needed for the construction program — expected to be as many as 20,000 people at the height of the rollout.

According to the spokesperson, this reliance on the private sector to source and supply the required skills was not an issue, as NBN Co was working with contractors to manage the risk of skills shortages.

“We have identified a range of different occupations involved in the delivery of the NBN and have modelled the need for a number of core jobs across different regions around Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“We have also identified training programs that are required [and] we are using the workforce modelling to inform government about our priorities for skills development to address potential skill shortages.

"The modelling will also assist our construction partners in preparing their workforce.”

The spokesperson also noted the risk of skills shortages and its ability to affect the peak rollout rate of almost 6000 premises per day, which has been identified in the NBN Co Corporate Plan.

“A significant risk to achieving the planned rate and hence, the volume deployment plan, is a possible economy-wide shortage of available construction resources at an acceptable cost,” the plan reads.

“NBN Co will work with the training industry to ameliorate the impacts of possible labour shortages.”

Following the release of the Access Economics report, the firm’s director, David Rumbens, said competition from the mining boom and reconstruction efforts would likely place a strain on skills supply and could effectively slow the rollout speed of the NBN.

“Yes, we do believe delays are likely, given the scale of resources projects and flood reconstruction work along with the NBN,” Rumbens, told Computerworld Australia.

“This is coming at the same time as a slowing down in workforce growth, as net overseas migration has fallen and the rate of retirements looks set to increase.”

A recent poll by Essential Research suggested public support for the NBN could be on the wane with results showing both Liberal/National and Labor voters favoured the private sector, rather than the government to deliver broadband services.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags macroeconomist David RumbensNational Broadband Network (NBN)access economicsnbn coNBN

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