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Interview with Glen Bartholomew, ABC NewsRadio Drive


Event: Interview with Glen Bartholomew, ABC NewsRadio Drive
Date: Wednesday, 4 October 2023, 3.45pm AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: labour shortages, transition to net zero

Glen Bartholomew, host ABC NewsRadio Drive: A severe skills shortfall is posing a major threat for the nation’s climate goals. Electrical Trades Union is among those warning that Australia’s energy transition will fail unless the Federal Government aggressively trains more electricians and other workers. A report by Jobs and Skills Australia called the Clean Energy Generation Workforce Needs for a Net Zero Economy, sets out a pathway for the skills, training and workforce needs to achieve our current emissions targets. There’s a bit of work to do. It’s modelling suggests we will need approximately 26,000 to 42,000 more electricians in the next seven years. And the clean energy supply workforce will need to grow by around 31,000 by 2050. The peak building industry association Master Builders Australia agrees. It says it’s already facing critical labour shortages and skills needs. Denita Wawn is MBA’s CEO and joins us now. Good afternoon.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good afternoon.

Glen: What do your estimates say about how many new workers are needed?

Denita: Well, it’s pretty scary. We currently employ 1.3 million. We’ve estimated over the next five years, we will need to encourage about 500,000 new entrants into our industry. About half of those are to cover exits, but another half is for new jobs. And that includes some of these issues around the transition to clean energy. So, it’s a massive transformation of the energy. So many opportunities. But equally, it’s posing some significant challenges when it comes to our capacity to deliver.

Glen: 486,000 new workers by 2026, and that’s not including the workers needed to achieve net zero. The government’s own employment white paper noted that a workforce increase of about 30 per cent would be needed by 2033 to deliver on these net zero transformation ambitions. Is that possible in that timeframe?

Denita: I’m always a glass-half-full kind of person, and I say yes because it’s scary if we don’t achieve it. We will be really under significant pressure, and this is a whole of an economy issue that we’ve got to resolve. So we are very keen to be working with the government on a range of initiatives in terms of workforce capacity. We’ve got to train more Australians. We’ve got to encourage more people into our sector. We need to look at innovative training methods, and, of course, skilled migration is also in the mix as well. So, there’s a lot of work to be done, but, equally, we should see the opportunities arising from this as well rather than just the negatives.

Glen: Jobs and Skills Australia says about 36 per cent of occupations have a skills or worker shortage and that’s growing. It lists trades like carpenters and electricians among them. So, it’s getting worse not better yeah?

Denita: It is and unfortunately, we’ve got a situation where we’re transitioning to net zero; we’ve got some targets to resolve the housing crisis, and of course, when you build more homes, you need the corresponding infrastructure around it, whether it’s education, health, our roads, our transport requirements and shops and so forth. So, a huge amount of work that needs to be done to meet the needs of the community as well as the transition on top of this as well. And this not only includes new facilities but also retrofitting of existing structures as well. So, a significant amount of work to be done, and that is why it is so critical that we create policies that are conducive to meeting these challenges rather than hampering them.

Glen: Yeah, the rewiring the nation initiative requires 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines to be built, but there are just 32 apprentice transmission lines workers in training, according to the Electrical Trades Union. It says this transition is doomed without some aggressive action on apprentices. It says the government’s neglect of training has created a bit of an obstacle in this transition and there’s an urgent need for a renewed focus on vocational training. Do you agree?

Denita: Absolutely. It’s integral that all, both industry and unions and government, through a tripartite perspective, really are encouraging students as well as people looking for career change to look at our sector. Massive opportunities, and it is something that I know Minister O’Connor addressed yesterday, the need to ensure that we are all working collaboratively together to encourage more apprentices, to provide support not only to apprentices but also their employers as well and we as employers need to be the employers of choice. So, it’s huge and we need to encourage parents or school career counsellors that doing vocational education and training provides massive career opportunities for our students going forward. And we would like to see more schools talking about VET as the same as which they do with university. It shouldn’t be one secondary to the other. They are both very positive career pathways but there are huge opportunities in VET as a consequence of all this transformation.

Glen: And opportunities for everyone too. Should we be casting a wider net for workers, including more female participation?

Denita: Absolutely. It’s really disappointing that the building and construction industry is still floundering. Under 20 per cent of our workforce are women. Even more scarily only around three per cent of our trades workforce are women. That is simply not acceptable. We should be attracting anyone who is in the workforce, regardless of their gender, into our sector. We need to make an effort to ensure that we are attracting the best and brightest. We run the Women Building Australia program with about five or six initiatives to encourage more women but equally ensuring that we as an industry are attractive to women as well. So, work to be done in that space but it’s really generally saying to the working population here are some opportunities and we are very much embracing your participation in this really exciting time.

Glen: There’s talking today about simpler migration pathways. Can the skills crisis be solved through migration or is international demand for the same skills going to make that difficult?

Denita: International demand is huge and skilled migration is only just an added benefit, not the fundamental foundation of what we need, and that is around more Australians working in our sector. Skilled migration can certainly assist. We know it is difficult within the traditional trades to actually get recognition. It’s highly costly. It’s also very time-consuming and also traditionally, it has not guaranteed you permanency of time in Australia. So, we are encouraged by some of the comments by the Albanese Government in terms of their skilled migration review. We understand that will come out sometime later this year but in the meantime, certainly, the government is acknowledging the importance of skilled migration as part of the solution but not the solution.

Glen: Lots of work to do. Denita Wawn, thanks very much. The CEO of Master Builders Australia.

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


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