Master Builders Australia puts forward plan to address critical construction worker shortage

Master Builders Australia puts forward plan to address critical construction worker shortage

Increasing gender diversity, addressing biases in career choices and improving recognition of international qualifications are some of the changes Australia can implement to address its critical shortage of construction workers, according to a report by Master Builders Australia.

The organisation’s findings estimate around 486,000 workers will need to enter the building and construction industry by 2026 to keep up with demand and replace retirees.

Nearly half of that required workforce will have to fill technician and trade roles, the vast majority of which will break into the sector through a trade apprenticeship.

“Construction is the backbone of the Australian economy, employing approximately 1.3 million people, providing infrastructure, commercial and community buildings, and homes for the growing population,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said.

“With Australia's population projected to grow by over 50 per cent between 2022 and 2060, reaching nearly 40 million people, the industry will require a significant workforce to undertake the necessary building and construction work.”

Internet vacancy data from Jobs and Skills Australia for February 2023 found more than 4,000 online job advertisements for construction managers, and 1,000-plus vacancies for carpenters, plumbers and building labourers.

It follows research from the national Skills Priority List for 2022 that identified nearly half of trade occupations and around 40 per cent of professional roles in Australia in 2022 were in shortage.

“The nature of work in the industry is evolving due to increasing business specialisation, more offsite building, frequent job changes, technology integration, and complex regulatory requirements,” Wawn said.  

“The blueprint aims to address this by attracting new workers into the industry, retaining current and emerging workers, and ensuring that training and education products and pathways remain up-to-date and flexible.”

Recommendations in the report include addressing bias in career selection, as young people are increasingly being pushed towards entering university at the expense of considering Vocational Education & Training (VET) courses.

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), 91.5 per cent of trade apprentices were employed on completion in 2019 while 72.2 per cent of university graduates gained full-time employment.

Of the university graduates who secured work, 28.3 per cent reported they are not fully using their skills or education in their role. By comparison, 94.6 per cent of trade say their skills are directly relevant to their work.

“The VET system is poorly understood and many young people feel they are not provided with a deep understanding of post-school options and are instead pushed toward university, while only 10 per cent of young people report facing no pressure at all,” the report said.

“Government policy and decision makers need to acknowledge that the two parts of our tertiary education system are treated differently and therefore valued differently by the Australia people. Decisive action is needed to genuinely place equal value on VET and higher education.”

“To level the playing field, we need to address the bias toward university, overcome misconceptions, and overhaul the quality, funding and availability of careers education in secondary and senior secondary schools.”

The report also calls for the industry to improve gender diversity, with women presenting a ‘massive opportunity’ to increase the pool of potential workers.

According to NCVER, 2,220 women commenced a trade apprenticeship in 2022 - the highest number on record and nearly four times the 20-year average to 2021 of 599.

“Doing my apprenticeship was the best decision I ever made. It’s never going to be easy but I assure you that it will all be worth it, the good and the bad,” qualified painter Karly Gaffy said in the report.  

The report by Master Builders Australia also calls for improved recognition of comparable international qualifications and experience, particularly in trades.

“Trades recognition assessment processes are marred by lengthy delays. Where it is established that a particular country’s standards are comparable or exceed Australian requirements a trade recognition assessment should not be required,” the report said.

“This has the potential to speed up processes, reduce red tape and costs, and make Australia a more appealing destination for these workers.

“Ensuring that Australia continues to be an attractive destination for permanent migrants, particularly skilled migrants, is critical. This will require governments to ensure the policy setting for our migration system are internationally competitive and our communities continue to be vibrant, cohesive and welcoming environments.”

Other recommendations include the government developing and funding the implementation of a rolling apprentice retention strategy, the creation of a digital apprenticeship platform to improve training contact and forming a national mentoring program.

“Attracting enough people to meet the demands of the coming decades is a major challenge, but policies around training and education, industrial relations, workforce development, and skilled migration offer opportunities to build a more productive labour force,” the report said.

“Understanding emerging and future workforce skills needs is critical to ensuring the pathways into and within our industry are flexible to the changing and diverse needs of workers, businesses, and employers.

“We need to ensure training and education products and pathways are not only suitable for the jobs of today but are forward-looking and flexible so our industry can develop the skills it will need for the future.”

The recommendations follow the collapse of numerous housing construction companies this year, including Porter Davis, Lloyd Group, EQ Constructions, LDC, Hallbury Homes, Pantha Homes, Delco Building Group and more.

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