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Housing Skills Shortage will Impact Home Building in Australia Warns HIA


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Unless there’s some serious focus on encouraging more people into trades, Australia will continue to suffer a significant skills shortage and will struggle to meet its targets to build 185,000 new dwellings per year. Such are the HIA’s warnings in its HIA Trades Report for the June Quarter.

Modest oversupplies in some trades were recorded: electrical, landscaping, plumbing, and site preparation.

The report found a considerable shortage of skilled trades across the residential construction industry. The most needed trade is bricklaying, which is closely followed by finishing trades, such as ceramic tiling and plastering, as well as roofing, concreting, floor sanding, glazing, pest control, and scaffolding.

Modest oversupplies in some trades were recorded: electrical, landscaping, plumbing, and site preparation.

The only state which has not recorded shortages in trades is WA, which has shown an over-supply following the construction downturn, which came on the back of contraction within the mining industry. The end of the mining investment boom had a knock-on effect, impacting the residential building boom, leaving WA to experience a very different construction environment to a couple of years ago.

The shortfalls have, in turn, put additional pressure on trade pricing, with modest increases of up to 6 percent recorded across the industry. South Australia, however, has experienced strong price increases of up to 27.3 percent in regional areas and 8.6 percent in Adelaide. Interestingly the most modest price increase was recorded for the industry with the biggest shortfall - bricklaying, which only rose by 0.3 percent in the quarter ending June 2017.

The undersupply has not happened overnight and is not news to many in the industry.  It will still need to be addressed said HIA Senior economist Shane Garrett:  “There are a few different elements to the current trade shortage. In the mining boom, a decade or so back, those who would have ordinarily taken apprenticeships went instead to the mines, beginning the shortage in certain trades.

The current shortage has come on the back of huge levels of home building across the eastern states with work commencing on an estimated 221,760 houses in the 12 months to March 2017.

“Coupled with the shortfall, residential construction is now the highest it has been for some years, and while there has been attrition from the mines by qualified tradespeople, there is still a shortage in housing trades such as bricklayers and plasterers,” he continued.

The current shortage has come on the back of huge levels of home building across the eastern states with work commencing on an estimated 221,760 houses in the 12 months to March 2017.

Garrett’s figures, whilst a little more conservative, nevertheless demonstrate the spiral Australia has fallen into. Without a much stronger effort to encourage more trades, it is only set to get worse.

“Australia has a target to build 185,000 new dwellings per year, which we are not able to achieve at present. There’s a need to be a greater push to improve and up-skill the labour force to ensure an adequate supply of trades. The HIA would welcome more Government funding to promote apprenticeships and trades as a solid career and stable choice for young people,” said Garrett.

The Centre for Vocational Education Research suggests that there has been a slow increase in construction trade apprentices from 43,200 in June 2014 to 50,800 in June 2016. However, it is still not enough to fulfil requirements.

Without a much stronger effort to encourage more trades, it is only set to get worse.

In March this year, HIA executive director David Barre presented the key issues behind the trade shortage [in NSW] and how to deal with them when he said: “The focus is too heavily weighted towards gaining a professional qualification at university with few job opportunities at the end of it. If the Government…is serious about maintaining housing supply as a key weapon to fight affordability, it must also acknowledge that developing the workforce is crucial.”

The HIA suggested initiating a more focused campaign, developed with the residential construction industry, and attracting people to the benefits of a trade career and lifestyle.

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