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Address at BuildSkills Australia national launch


Speaker: Alex Waldren, National Director Industry Policy Master Builders Australia
Event: Launch of BuildSkills Australia
Delivery: Tuesday 26 February 2024, 7.30am AEDT, Canberra
Topic: BuildSkills; apprenticeships; labour shortages; skills; training

***Check against delivery***

Good morning and thank you to Brett for the introduction.

Master Builders Australia has been a part of the education and training journey in the building and construction industry for a long time now.

We’ve been an integral part in the development of training packages in the committees, councils and advisory boards that’s existed before BuildSkills.

Our state and territory network of registered and group training organisations deliver trade training qualifications, continuing education, provide apprentice support and link up people with jobs in construction.

And for the BuildSkills journey, we have been a joint partner in the formation of the company; and with other industry peaks and unions are foundation members of BuildSkills Australia.

Employer groups started this journey with the expectation that industry will be in the driver’s seat bringing to the table a real world understanding about the trends and issues affecting our sector.

We have a keen interest in making sure that the building and construction workforce is well trained and ready for what the future brings.

The challenges ahead of us are substantial with building and construction having a persistent and chronic shortage of workers.

Labour shortages remain the biggest source of cost pressures and disruption for the industry, impacting the final cost and timeline for building new homes and infrastructure.

Whilst at the same time the infrastructure sector is delivering a $230 billion major public infrastructure pipeline over the next five years, we have a 1.2 million new homes target and major investment in the energy sector is quadrupling over that same period.

Master Builders forecasts that we need to attract close to half a million Australians over the next 3-5 years to replenish an ageing workforce and meet demand.

Around 8 per cent of the workforce is likely to be lost to retirement and departures from the industry each year – equivalent to over 100,000 people per year.

Over the long-term, BuildSkills has identified a 12.7% undersupply of workers by 2032. This undersupply has broader impacts on the economy with construction being such a significant part of the economy.

BuildSkills has been established to find solutions to the workforce challenges.

We all know here in this room that becoming a tradesperson is a journey of lifelong learning. It is not simply a four-year apprenticeship and then you’re off and running.

It is a career of constant upskilling, professional development, retraining, relearning and adapting.

It’s a tough gig at the best of times, but it’s a rewarding gig. An exciting gig. A critical one.

And yet, we don’t have enough people wanting to join the industry – either young people looking for a career start, or people already in the workforce looking for a change.

Why don’t people want a career that is tangible? That achieves something. A career where they have options to be the boss, on the tools, in the office, on site, planning, designing, building, demolishing; realising people’s dreams.

There are lots of answers to that question. And I suspect most of us here today know what some of those answers are.

But one of the key barriers preventing our industry from achieving the growth it needs is that people don’t know what a construction career in 2024 really looks like. And the education system isn’t doing us any favours.

To the outside, people see an industry that’s dated for the most part. They see hard work in increasingly hot and cold environments. They see versions of on-site culture that are regressive and don’t align with societal expectations. They see low apprentice wages.

They don’t see the incredible technology we use. They don’t see the drones, the 3D printers, the virtual reality, digital tools that support design, engineering, business and operational performance and modern methods of construction such as prefabricated systems and offsite construction.

They don’t see the ways we work smarter, not harder.

They don’t see the almost 15 percent of women in the industry, or the more flexible working hours. The increasing focus on work-life-balance.

They don’t see the good wages many people in the industry draw – especially those skilled in their trade.

How do we help them see these amazing parts of our industry and change the outdated perception we are saddled with?

Research. Understanding. Education.

This is the work we are so excited to see BuildSkills Australia undertake.

When we began to frame up a proposal for BuildSkills Australia as one of the six employer foundation members – alongside Australian Industry Group, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the Civil Contractors Federation, Master Plumbers Australia and New Zealand and the Housing Industry Association – we thought long and hard about what we wanted BuildSkills Australia to achieve.

We framed the proposal around three key pillars: understand, develop and promote.

And that’s exactly what we need from them today. We want them to wholly and intimately understand the needs of our sector. Not just what they think we need, but what we actually need, now and in the future.

We need them to develop training packages that are responsive, fit for purpose, relevant, adaptive, future-proofed and result in students who are well equipped to enter the industry workforce and hit the ground running.

We need national education that is unbiased and developed with the sole intention of serving the student and the industry equally.

And that utilises the tripartite environment that BuildSkills establishes to deliver national units of competency for current training needs such as silica awareness and future needs that will come with net zero transformation and more offsite construction.

And we need BuildSkills Australia to heavily promote how good this industry is. Because it is amazing – and we all know that or we would not be here today.

At Master Builders Australia we have high hopes for BuildSkills Australia. We know they don’t have an easy task. The path ahead will be rocky at times, and we will not always agree on priorities.

But here we stand, ready to put the rubber to the road and get moving.

This is the last jobs and skills committee to be formed and we recognise it has been a long time coming since Artibus wrapped up their operations.

We are particularly keen to see research relating to the reasons apprentices are attracted to our industry. And why they leave – especially in that critical first year.

We need to shift the dial on apprentice commencements and completions in trades that lag behind non-trade apprenticeships.  Research might help us to understand what more can be done to help us do this.

We are interested in research that looks at how we might dispel the myths that surround the industry – that it’s still a man’s industry, that wages are poor, that career longevity isn’t possible.

We want to know what we can do to help parents – mothers in particular – feel confident helping their child navigate a building and construction career. Especially if it’s a whole new world for their family.

We need to help change on-site culture to make it more inclusive and diverse. We need an industry free of bullying, harassment, assault, discrimination, sexual violence. Free of suicide.

And we need a training system that matches these aspirations. That reflects the culture we are trying to achieve. A culture that is sustainable, adaptive, inclusive and strong.

We at Master Builders Australia, our state and territory member associations, and the 32,000 businesses our members represent across the residential, civil and commercial construction sectors look forward to working closely with BuildSkills Australia, and all of you here in the room, to achieve the kind of future we want for our industry.

Media contact:
Dee Zegarac
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071

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