Is Australia running out of construction workers?

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Construction workers in Australia

Construction and the trades have been in hot demand all over the world for centuries. As such, there has always been a constant stream of new workers training up in the trades after leaving school or after switching professions.

Here in Australia, between the constant mining projects going on around the country, the booming property market, the growth of the nation as a business hub, and the installation of the National Broadband Network, the demand for skilled workers in all areas of construction is on a high.

The question is, is there more of a demand for skilled tradesmen than there is a supply?

It certainly seems likely that within the next few years, construction workers will be in higher demand than ever.

According to estimates from the Department of Labour, the country will need approximately 15,000 new trainees to finish an apprenticeship every year for the next five years or so to cover the requirements of current projects in the pipeline as older workers retire from the industry. The problem is, current numbers of graduates from such programs are falling short of that number, with roughly 12,300 coming out of these courses per year.

Overall, Australia will likely need somewhere in the vicinity of 47,800 new tradies over the next few years, and the current state of affairs simply suggests that that won’t happen.

At the moment, the country is already having difficulties in finding enough tradespeople to work in stonemasonry, cabinet-making, plumbing, bricklaying, and tiling for roofs, walls and floors.

The country’s biggest current infrastructure project is the installation of the National Broadband Network, which is aiming to reach millions of homes and businesses within the next few years. NBN CEO Bill Morrow has already expressed concerns about finding the skills and personnel to complete the job, saying “if I look over the next two or three years, we have a shortage of about 4,000 people and I don’t know where we’re going to get them.”

While such projects add extra demand to the supply of skilled construction workers, director of manufacturing, engineering and electrotechnology at Sydney’s TAFE Richard Hayes has highlighted one potential reason for the lack of fresh blood entering the trades.

“The perception is that every parent wants their child coming through high school to go on and get a degree,” he explained.

“But I think success can be measured in different ways and does not always have to be measured through a degree. More and more, we are seeing that young people coming into trades are going on to successful careers.”

Nor is Australia alone in this issue. In the USA, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that the country will need 29 per cent more HVACR and 21 per cent more plumbing technicians. Within plumbing alone, the expectation is that the demand for services will grow by approximately 10 per cent by 2016.

All of this, of course, is great news for those currently training in a trade or already working in one. As the demand for those skills increases, it can create more opportunities for work, for higher pay, for upskilling and promotions, and for more projects that appeal to individual workers.