Federal investment is required to equip Australian asset managers with the skills to guarantee the health and sustainability of assets into the future, writes David Jenkins.
Imagine if potholes never got filled, bridges weren’t maintained, streetlights weren’t fixed and there was no such thing as a sewage system.
These are all assets and, thankfully, there are professionals who manage and maintain these assets to ensure they are safe and performing at an optimum capacity – protected from damage and changing climate conditions. Failure to do so results in asset failure whereby there is little-to-no return on investment, the safety of the public is jeopardised and assets need to be rebuilt earlier at significant taxpayer cost.
Governments are investing in infrastructure, however there is no clear strategy in place to manage these projects after the construction phase. We need a shift in mindset around infrastructure development – from a short-term view focused on construction completion, to one that considers the health and sustainability of the asset into the future.
This requires the education of asset managers so there are enough professionals with the right skills and capabilities to successfully manage existing and future assets. Current problems are exacerbated by skills shortages in Australia in relevant professions such as engineering, asset management and planning.
We need a national plan to secure the greatest return for our infrastructure – not only for today’s taxpayer but also for future generations. This is currently being done around the world. For example, the Canadian government has developed a highly successful program that provides a strong roadmap for investing in workforce capability to manage assets optimally.
A Canadian asset management success story
The Canadian federal government is in the middle of a long-term funding initiative to build the country’s asset management capabilities for the purpose of ensuring greater long-term success of infrastructure projects. The CA$110 million initiative, the Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP), is in its sixth year and is scheduled to run until 2023-’24.
MAMP provides funds for training and resources for municipal-employed asset managers, empowering them to make better-informed infrastructure investment and management decisions. This is achieved by supporting the development of an organisational approach to asset management plans, policies, strategies, training and resourcing.
The funding is being delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and is being measured with a tool known as the asset management readiness scale (AMRS). This scale allows organisations to assess their overall asset management practices and programs against a set of internationally-regarded criteria.
Last year’s results were eye-opening. Of the 165 municipal asset management projects completed since MAMP’s inception, 138 (84 percent) successfully advanced along the scale. This is a huge success for the municipalities and their citizens, as teams were able to demonstrate improvement of their practices and outcomes learned from the training provided.
Of the municipalities that received MAMP funding, one key area of advancement was data and information competency, with 65 percent advancing along the scale. The way municipalities process and analyse information about existing assets dramatically improved. This resulted in higher levels of visibility into the issues of their assets, which resulted in better and more informed decision making.
Education is a significant part of MAMP, with a focus on up-skilling those currently in the industry. Training programs have been rolled out at municipalities to give teams the specialised skill set required to understand the foundations of asset management and are able to confidently execute this knowledge.
The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning, which was designed in Australia, is a key program of MAMP. It was also translated into French for accessibility to all Canadians.
MAMP has delivered high benefits to municipalities already and is set to continue supporting them to improve their levels of service assessment and risk analysis. Current and future projects will be able to deliver strong returns on investments for years to come.
Replicating success back home
MAMP is extensive in terms of budget and strategy, ensuring all infrastructure projects are set up for success by having properly trained people and resources. The Canadian government’s commitment to infrastructure and the asset management profession proves how vital and specialised it is to the project lifecycle.
Sporadic investment in asset management is made in Australia by local and state governments. However, a national program has not yet been developed. The benefits of a national program are clear: cohesion across the country, equal access to advanced education and skill development, and a clear pathway to directly addressing the national skills shortage.
It’s time for the Australian government to consider introducing a similar program to the MAMP nationally, to ensure local governments have the right resources and skills to maximise the capacity and lifespan of all infrastructure assets.
David Jenkins is CEO at IPWEA.