In many Australian cities the hunger for skilled building and construction tradespeople is so high that employers are poaching apprentices away from completing their training, according to a Construction News report based on Federal Department of Employment projections to the year 2019.
Over the past couple of years the employment rate across the industry nationally has risen by more than 6 per cent. This is significant because construction is the third largest employment sector and the success of the industry is directly linked with the Australian economy. It also points to strong opportunities for those employed in – or looking for career opportunities in – building and construction trades and allied occupations.
The Federal Department of Employment predicts in the next couple of years Australia will need nearly 50,000 more building tradespeople to meet demand and replace retiring workers. This figure represents about 7 per cent of the current workforce of roughly 365,900 skilled tradespeople in the construction industry.
That translates to around 14,000 new apprenticeships a year, but available apprenticeships have declined dramatically and only half (over the last five years an average of 12,325pa) of new apprentices persevere through the four-year course to completion certification – a dramatic decrease from the completion rates of approximately 30,000pa during the early 1990s.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union National Secretary Dave Noonan attributes part of the problem to employers enticing third and fourth year apprentices away from their courses by offering to pay them trade rates. Also, he says, “Demand to take up an apprenticeships far exceeds the number on offer.”
The Department of Employment says there are already shortages in skilled trades such as bricklaying, stonemasonry, roof tiling, interior tiling, plumbing and cabinet making. And according to a recent Hays Recruitment report, there has been a spike in demand for site managers, project managers, site administrators, plumbers, carpenters, sheet metal workers, electricians and general labourers.
These conditions present a mixed picture for the industry sector. Along with government policies surrounding residential building, infrastructure development and the price of materials and equipment, current market influences on building and construction demand also include broader factors such as:
- population growth
- industry activity
- commodity cycles
- interest rates
- consumer sentiment
What this means is that supply and demand is quite variable on the local level but the general trends are:
- pushing wages and trades costs up
- driving greater reliance on foreign labour
- creating compromises in execution due to the shortage of people with the proper levels of knowledge and expertise, with the Housing Industry Association citing “widespread shortages of appropriately skilled trades workers in the construction industry”.
Some sample trades
While demand for trades is at its highest in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland which account for about three-quarters of all construction jobs, local skilled contractors are impossible to find in some regional areas.
Stonemasons are in demand in most states and territories, apart from Queensland and WA. They are mostly required for kitchen and bathroom installations. In 2016 about 40 per cent of existing vacancies were filled, 30 per cent attracted no suitable candidates and 30 per cent no applicants at all. Those considered unsuitable lacked relevant experience. Training is not available in all parts of the country.
Wall and floor tilers
Shortages are confined to the large eastern states, with competition for work occurring in other areas. In 2016 about 54 per cent of vacancies were filled and a quarter attracted no applicants. Vacancies in regional areas were unfilled. Lack of post-trade qualifications or relevant experience were the key barriers to employment.
Shortages are universal and worst in regional areas. In 2016 only 52 per cent of vacancies were filled, and employment of glaziers in construction continues to rise steadily. About 55 per cent of glaziers hold Certificate III or IV level qualifications and this is one trade where apprenticeship completions are increasing.
Roof tilers have been in undersupply for the past 10 years, and this has become more acute in the last three, with only one in five 2016 vacancies filled. Regional employers filled only 10 per cent of their requirements. Areas of demand are mainly new housing or renovations or maintenance. Training numbers are low with only 100-200 completions pa in recent years, and less than 40 per cent of roof tilers hold Certificate III or higher qualifications, according to the ABS.