Employment expert’s worrisome warning as budget won’t fix industry’s worker woes

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

The Australian construction sector is facing a head-on collision with the repercussions of the ongoing skilled worker shortage, the CEO of one of Australia’s largest recruitment organisations has warned.

Boosting the number of skilled construction workers across the nation was a key target of this year’s federal budget announcements, released earlier this month.

However, the government’s $91 million investment plan to build up the number of tradies is expected to only give a minor reprieve to an industry challenged by soaring worker demand.

The nation’s booked-out building calendar is set to stretch Australia’s construction labour force to the limit over the next decade, with an ongoing housing crisis, a clean energy transition and major infrastructure and transport projects in every state. 

This has many experts predicting the industry is on a path towards failed build targets and missed deadlines, as it’s unable to find the tradies required.

In fact, the government’s ambitious housing goals of building 1.2 million homes in five years is already off to a dire start, with new home approvals lagging 50 per cent behind soon-to-be annual target levels, with even the most optimistic forecasts anticipating a 200,000 home shortfall. 

Matthew Dickason, Asia Pacific CEO for construction recruitment and workforce solution organisation Hays, spoke exclusively to Build-it about the industry’s ongoing labour challenges and warned current government support was simply not enough to have any sufficient impact on Australia’s skilled worker shortage. 

“The federal government’s $91 million investment to boost the number of skilled construction workers will only give minor stimulus to a housing sector challenged by rising demand,” he told Build-it. 

“Population growth will place increased pressure on ageing assets, roads, public transport and other infrastructure. Additionally, momentum towards climate change mitigation will quicken, meaning existing and future infrastructure will need to be adapted.”

Mr Dickason predicts the skills shortage will spill out onto other related industry sectors and ultimately drive up already high construction costs, further risking project collapse.

“Currently, inflation and labour shortages are causing a constrained labour market. This will create significant demand on not only construction, but architecture and engineering as well – and the skills required are in short supply, heightening salaries across the board,” he said. 

Hays CEO Matthew Dickason says the government’s efforts to fix the skills shortage fall short.

More funding and varied approach key to alleviating worker crisis:

Despite the pessimistic projections, most experts agree with the government’s multi-faceted approach to tackling the housing crisis and the lack of skilled workers.

Mr Dickason called on the government to double down on its ideas, praising the government’s Future Made in Australia Policy as well as Tafe initiatives to help find the next generation of tradies. 

“It’s heartening to see forward-thinking allocations with the likes of fee-free TAFE places, higher education reforms, and initiatives like the New Energy Apprenticeships Program,” he told Build-it. 

“The Budget includes funding for the National Skills Agreement, with most of the funding supporting free TAFE places. There is an additional $265.1 million over four years for apprentices in priority occupations to tide the sector over until the Strategic Review into the Australian Apprenticeship Incentive Program is completed…It is hoped that this will put downward pressure on construction labour costs.”

He also advised looking within to generate more multi-skilled tradies and to help skill-transition those currently in trades with lesser demands to more sort-after roles.

“What’s needed is a far more robust approach to upskilling existing workforces, which looks at better on-the-job learning and development at a time when these programs are hard to implement because of the cost of doing business,” he told Build-it.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.