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Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB Weekends


Event: Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB Weekends
Date: 10 June 2024, 10.25am AEST 

Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia 
Topics: Skilled migration; labour shortages 


Luke Grant, host 2GB Weekends: Denita Wawn, good morning. 

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning, Luke. 

Luke: Lovely to talk to you again, Denita. This, well I read this, and I thought okay typical union stitch-up piece. I would say that, I’m a conservative commentator, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought how dangerous this is for a number of reasons. Firstly, denying the obvious that there’s a shortage of tradies and you and I have discussed this on several occasions. Would you mind telling my listeners Denita how short we are roughly in numbers? 

Denita: Well, we’re incredibly short. An agency established by the government, BuildSkills Australia said a month or so ago that we needed 90,000 more tradies in 90 days to meet the five-year target of 1.2 million homes. We have estimated that we need about half a million new entrants into the industry over the next three to five years. The numbers are staggering, and I hear builders every single day saying they are not tendering for work because they cannot guarantee that they can do the work because there’s not enough skilled people. It’s as simple as that. 

Luke: And it seems to me from reading what they sent me, from the CFMEU I’m talking about, that they’re looking at job advertisements and the like and my immediate reaction was, I concluded, having heard this for so long, that it’s now, it’s reached a stage where many in construction don’t even bother advertising because they know they’re going to get maybe a response or two, half of which won’t turn up and the other one won’t be at all suitable. I mean, that’s the reality of where we find ourselves, isn’t it? 

Denita: Luke, excuse the pun but you hit the nail on the head. It costs an awful lot of money to advertise and when you get zero applicants or applicants that are simply not suitable then it is not worth it. We are desperately working to get as many people into trades as possible through apprenticeships, encouraging those who are trade qualified to get back on the tools. Nevertheless, we’re not going to meet that shortfall in the short-term and as such we need to look at skilled migration as a solution. We have treated tradies as second-class citizens in our school system for too long and we’re paying the price for it. 

Luke: Yeah, and that goes back over not just this government, but prior governments to be fair and we’ve got to be fair. I simply don’t, and I think I’ve raised this with you before, I saw a report, maybe in the Herald five or six months ago, Denita, that said we brought in half a million people, of which there were 1,000 or just under 1,000 plumbers. Now those numbers to me are I mean they are so frightening to think that to get 1,000 plumbers into Australia we need to bring in an additional 499,000 people. What skills they have, we’re not sure. Is the program targeted specifically and are we to tradies, and are we competing, and I assume we are with every other country on the planet that wants skilled workers now? 

Denita: Yeah, unfortunately, we are in an international competitive market, and you look at the fees or requirements in Canada and the UK, they are so much better for people than they are in Australia. They have Canada, for example, have a tradie priority express visa. UK has much more flexible conditions. We know of course you’ve got to ensure that anyone that comes here has got the appropriate skills to the level that meets our standards. Nevertheless, we should not make it costly and cumbersome to get here that it puts people off. And then of course, when they do apply, they’re getting rejected and we’re not quite sure why. 

Luke: Gosh, how closely has government allowed you to work on this? Because you would think, but particularly you and your organisation would be so well informed on the issue. Do you get fair access? I mean, again back to where this began for a union just to go out there and effectively have a crack at Master Builders Australia and deny the reality that so clearly exists and says all sorts of the things about the quality of debate in Australia, but surely government says to you, Denita, and your colleagues hey listen we want to fix this, come and have a chat and we’ll sort it out. Has that happened? Does that happen? 

Denita: Yeah look, I commend the government. We’ve been having a large number of conversations with them on this. The list is developed by an agency of government Jobs and Skills Australia, not quite sure what they were doing when they created that list because it’s inconsistent with every other skills assessment that I’ve seen. The CFMEU attack on MBA, that’s normal. But what we’re disappointed about is that total lack of reality by them. We are having a situation in which the industry is costing 40 per cent more than it did five years ago, our productivity is the worst of any other industry, and it’s predominantly because of labour shortages. So, they’ve got to get a reality check. Don’t mind the attacks. It usually means that we’ve done the right thing and we’ve hit a nerve. 

Luke: Okay, that’s a good way of looking at it. Fee-free TAFE and I’ll leave things here. I saw some numbers out of Victoria which I’ll find in a moment or two. They had fee-free or have fee-free TAFE in Victoria and the number of courses started but not completed the figures are horrendous. Are you seeing in other jurisdictions around the country free-free TAFE making a difference? 

Denita: It’s making a little bit of a difference, but the big issue for us at the moment is completion rates and the inability to get people to actually complete their trade qualification. It needs more than just free cost. They need support. Both the employers who are hosting apprentices as well as the apprentices themselves. There’s cost of travel, there’s cost of tools, the list goes on. They need mentoring through their apprenticeship. We see so much support for university students but when we compare it to our apprentices there’s simply not enough in terms of support. So, commend again Brendan O’Connor he is undertaking at the moment and apprentice incentive review. We’ve been participating in that. Really interested to see what comes out of it. 

Luke: Denita, always good to chat. Look after yourself. I’ll talk to you again no doubt. Thank you.  

Denita: Thanks, Luke.  

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

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