The NSW Government has pinpointed 24 housing, school and industrial projects to fast track immediately following the COVID-19 pandemic.

They believe that this move will open thousands of jobs and boost the state’s economy by more than $7 billion. Yet as they seek to elevate the economy, the government needs to take care of its most susceptible communities.

In the eyes of many, Australia’s employment system is not up to the job. Both job seekers and potential employers say that the system is too complicated, resulting in lost opportunities on both ends.

Underserved people, like Indigenous people, refugees, physically challenged people, young people at risk, youth, women at risk, are further burdened by this system, as some programs concentrate their efforts on those who they can automatically match with work.

We must ensure that the people most in need benefit from the post COVID-19 construction spending. To remedy this situation, Australia’s federal and state governments must find innovative answers that involve the collaboration of public, private and third sector organisations to find jobs for people.

The construction industry has the power to help boost our economy as part of the third sector, a powerful network of organisations that encompasses social endeavours, Indigenous businesses, disability endeavours, refugee and minority enterprises, co-operatives, mutual organisations, and trading not-for-profits and philanthropic efforts.

Research reveals a number of barriers for third sector organisations involved in the construction business. Yet overall, they have tremendous power to help those disadvantaged peoples most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

They, after all, established and configured to serve a social and/or environmental purpose, as they are very much in touch with their local communities and they can respond with speed to community need.

Their potential role in encouraging Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 could be incredible. And according to a recent mapping of Victoria’s social enterprise sector43 per cent of social enterprises in Victoria are situated in regional areas hardest hit by this crisis and supply 12,000 jobs for people with physical challenges, 4000 positions for the long-term unemployed and 985 jobs for Indigenous citizens.

And a recent Canadian report reveals that social procurement attained through local businesses supplies a 77 to 100 per cent economic advantage and an 80 to 100 per cent increase in jobs per million dollars spent. This enhanced impact happens because regional companies employ more local workers, donate more funds to area charities, distribute more profits from their operation in the local area, and purchase more goods and services from area suppliers.

So how does the government access the untapped resources of Australia’s Third Sector?

One method is to utilise social procurement to harness the power of industries such as construction to bring third sector businesses into their supply chains as a condition of being awarded government contracts.

Conditionality and reformed thinking should be the order of the day, as should social procurement; a strategic approach to procuring building supplies and services which seeks to empower an organisation’s positive economic, environmental and social impact in the cities in which it builds.

The country maintains a sizable infrastructure pipeline ($288 billion) to leverage in Australia and building ranks among our biggest industries which employs approximately 1.2 million directly, many more indirectly. The building industry ranks as the biggest employer of youth (43 per cent, in comparison with all industry, 38 per cent), it supplies homes in disadvantaged and remote cities and can be used to invest opportunity into the core of a disadvantaged community.

Of all Indigenous business endeavours, 27.5 per cent operate in the building industry (more than any other business) and twice as many refugee businesses are devoted to building than any other business. Funds spent on construction multiply into the broader economy at a ratio of 1:4 and the business offers a multitude of unskilled positions to those most influenced by COVID-19.

These are the very industries liable to face skills shortage as the crisis ends.

Estimates say that half of all building occupations will be in shortage over the next five years, and that the construction industry requires an additional 13,000 to 15,000 new apprentices yearly and an extra 300,000 skilled workers across the country over the next 10 years, a 30 percent increase of the current employment force.

Also, well-constructed and well-designed construction projects can bear a transformative effect on local, regional and national success, community morale, health and resilience, reclaiming lost and underserved communities and transforming them into successful cities, cultivating a defined identity and city pride and incubator zones for new business ventures which can bring about innovation, economic development, community investment, happiness, and community pride.

Industries such as construction can revive deprived communities; and with the addition of the social procurement, we can build needed infrastructure, resolve the skills shortage, and help to resolve situations of disadvantage and inequity in the nation.