Home builders use construction slowdown to train more apprentices

Residential builders hope to use a slowdown in the project pipeline to prepare the next generation of tradies for looming future demand. 

By Jarrod
4 Min Read

Residential builders hope to use a slowdown in the project pipeline to prepare the next generation of tradies for looming future demand. 

According to a quarterly Trades Report released this week by the Housing Industry Association (HIA), a whopping 51 per cent of home builders surveyed in January aimed to increase the number of apprentices they took on board in 2024. 

Out of the thousands of respondents, only 7 per cent said they expected to reduce their apprentice numbers.

The strong intention to increase apprentice numbers across the sector comes as a surprise to many after recent cash rate rises shrank the volume of homes under construction, but HIA Senior Economist Tom Devitt said the demand for skilled builders is stronger than ever. 

“Despite the slowdown in building activity, strong demand for skilled tradespeople in other sectors has ensured that building trades remain in high demand,” he said.

“Competing demands from other sectors for skilled trades, such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers, are compounding the shortage of tradespeople in residential building.

“Competition for skilled tradespeople from other sectors – including public infrastructure and other non-residential projects – is intense. All sectors are now employing significantly more construction workers than just a decade ago.”

We need more tradies across the board

But the uptake in apprentice numbers still might not be enough, with experts claiming the chronic shortage of skilled tradespeople will leave the federal government falling well short of their 1.2 million target for home builds over the next five years.

According to the HIA’s Trades Availability Index, perceived demand for tradies across the industry sat at -0.64 in the final quarter of 2023, virtually unchanged for the past 12 months. 

By trade, the most acute shortages existed in ceramic tiling (-1.04) and bricklaying (-1.03), followed by carpentry (-0.84), roofing (-0.81) and plastering (-0.79). 

By region, the most acute shortages of skilled tradespeople at the end of 2023 were in Perth (-0.89) and Adelaide (-0.84), followed closely by regional South Australia (-0.76), Brisbane (-0.72), Melbourne (-0.70).

“The lack of improvement for much of 2023 shows the industry is still struggling to find the skilled tradespeople it needs,” said Mr Devitt. 

“This has made it harder for Australia’s home builders to complete the significant pipeline of work taken on during the pandemic.

“It has also pushed up the price of skilled trades, which increased by 5.0 per cent in 2023. While this is a welcome moderation from the near-10 per cent increase a year earlier, it is still much stronger than the 2.0 per cent average annual increase that prevailed before the pandemic.”

In hopes of course-correcting the industry, HIA has put several key initiatives that could ease construction woes to the Federal Government in their pre-budget submission last week. 

Among the suggestions was an overhaul of the education system to promote trade career pathways, financial ‘tool bonus’ apprentice incentives and a simplified visa process for in-demand skilled migrant workers. 

“A strong construction workforce is the only way that Australia will ever solve the problem of housing affordability,” said HIA Managing Director Jocelyn Martin.

“If the Federal Government is to realise its bold goal of 1.2 million much-needed homes in five years, HIA strongly recommends the Government adopt the recommendations contained in the submission.”

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.

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