Event: Denita Wawn interview with Gabriella Power, Sky News NewsDay
Date: Monday 9 January 2023
Speakers: Gabriella Power, host Sky News NewsDay; Denita Wawn CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: building and construction; migration
Gabriella Power, host Sky News NewsDay: Australia’s predicted population growth is tipped to put even more pressure on an already strained labour market. Master Builders is urging the federal government to implement short and long term fixes to improve the shortfalls. Joining us live now is Master Builders CEO Denita Wawn. Denita thank you for your time. Can you share with us how the building and construction industry is particularly impacted by population challenges?
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Well it’s really quite simple, we’ve got job shortages, skill shortages, labour shortages to ensure that we meet those demands that we have on the industry both civil, commercial and also residential. We’ve been feeling the strain over the last few years of cost increases and some of those cost increases include the fact that there is a shortage of workers, skilled workers. So, we’re focussing on a two-pronged attack. First of all, to skill as many Australians as possible for our sector but also we know that we need more people in this country which will include a strong and vibrant migration system as well.
Gabriella: So how much would you like to see Australia lift the migration cap by?
Denita: We would like to see it at least 200,000 which is a few more than what we’re getting now per year. Equally, we also need greater flexibility of the system than it is currently structured. That includes things such as the very high standard English language requirements. We think we need to be more flexible in encouraging people from all walks of life around the globe to come to our country if they have the right skillset and things such as English can be taught on the job and while they are in country as opposed to having strict high barriers as they currently are. That adds also to the cultural blend that we have in our country as well. So greater flexibility, a recognition of all the skill shortages that we have not only now but in the future. We are predicting that we would need another around about 400,000-500,000 people working in our sector over the next five years to fill the replacements that we’ll need but also the increases on jobs that will be needed to build for Australia.
Gabriella: So focussing on language. Is that one of the ways that Australia can be attract migrants right here?
Denita: There is a very, very high degree of competition for English language skilled workers so we think that we need to be more flexible and bring back the focus that we had in the 50s and 60s as we built such great infrastructure such as the Snowy where there wasn’t such a barrier in terms of English language. So many of our great migrant stories are from people that didn’t necessary have English when they first arrived to our shores. So we think that it is important that we broaden the opportunities available. Certainly, there are some jobs where English will be a pre-requisite straight away but equally we think it’s important that we lower the English language requirements. Certainly, for some jobs and ensure that they are taught English on their arrival in Australia. That would then increase the number of people we can be attracting to this country.
Gabriella: If it’s not lifted to 200,000, how difficult is it going to be for the building and construction industry going forward?
Denita: It’s going to be exceptionally difficult. We simply do not have enough skilled people in this country to meet the demands of the future of the industry and this is not just our industry. So many other industries across the industry were in high demand for labour and as such there is huge competition and as we have the baby boomers retiring that problem is only going to worsen. So we need to have a strong population growth strategy which includes migration as the centre-piece and focussing on the skill needs of the future but also the skill needs for now. We commend the government for fast-tracking many of the visas and getting rid of the backlog but we now need to focus the actual structure of the migration system itself and encourage more people into Australia to build for the population we know we need. And strangely enough we don’t have enough workers at the moment to build housing so it’s a no-win situation at the moment. We need more people to build more homes so we can house all Australians as well.
Gabriella: On upskilling the workforce, what’s the best way we should be doing this?
Denita: Well we’ve seen a great increase of apprenticeships during the pandemic in part because of the employer subsidies. It’s important that we have things such as free-VET systems and so forth for the skill needs and the higher shortages of skills. But equally we’ve got to recognise that it is a very costly exercise to train people up and we believe that in part employers should also be rewarded for employing apprentices. So there is more work to be done in encouraging people to apprenticeships but also more importantly encouraging people to actually conclude their training. We only have about 50 per cent of completion rates in our industry which is unacceptable in meeting the demand needs. So we need to focus on retention and completion not just in terms of commencement. That is going to be our focus for the next 12 months.
Gabriella: Denita Wawn thanks so much for your time.
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