Scroll Top

Interview with Richelle Hunt and Bronwen O’Shea, Conversation Hour, ABC Radio Melbourne


Event: Interview with Richelle Hunt and Bronwen O’Shea, Conversation Hour, ABC Radio Melbourne
Date: 9 July 2024, 11:40am AEST
Speakers: Denita Wawn, Chief Executive Master Builders Australia
Topics: Labour shortages, Apprentices


Richelle Hunt, Conversation Hour, ABC Radio Melbourne: Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Australia. Denita, I mean, we’ve got lost trades. We’ve got schools that we’re hearing should be doing more to be able to promote trades. Why do you think completion numbers of trade apprenticeships are just falling so greatly?

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning, everyone. I think the big issue we’ve got is really decades in the making. I grew up in the 80s, where we were really focused on the attention of universities. And so, we’ve had that decades of saying university should be your goal. And we really haven’t been promoting the benefits of trades. And in many instances, they’ve been declared second class citizens from a career perspective. So, we know that needs to be changed because there are huge opportunities available in the trades, and all sorts of different jobs as Peter has just alluded to, you know, that beautiful craftsmanship that we see whether it’s in restorations of old buildings, some of the beautiful stone walls that we see around and so forth. There are so many different opportunities that we want to promote, but we really haven’t given it great enough attention at school level and promoting parents in understanding the opportunities in the industry.

Richelle: It’s funny though, there’s a text here that says I’ve seen Peters work at the art fair, it looks almost impossible. No wonder the kids are reluctant.

Bronwen O’Shea, Conversation Hour, ABC Radio Melbourne: Oh too clever, too clever. How many apprentices short are we Denita? So, we know there’s, there’s a cry from industry for more apprentices because you know, there are positions unfilled. How short are we?

Denita: Well, the scary thing is that if you look at housing industry alone, we’re required under the Housing Accord to build 1.2 million homes in five years. Which would be a record. And at the moment, we’re estimating that immediately we need an additional 90,000 tradespeople to meet that requirement and we think it’s going to be more over the period of five years. So, we’re talking about shortages in trades of every single trade in the building and construction industry across the country. And that doesn’t include the fact that we’re looking at electrification. So, the increasing need of electricians as well adds to that level of opportunity. And we see it as an opportunity as opposed to a problem. It is a problem we’ve got but it provides an opportunity for everyone in the sector, as well as governments to really try and reverse the situation.

Richelle: But is it just seen as something that we can, “well, let’s just bring in people from overseas because that’s going to be easier”? Because there’s a lot of resistance that’s coming through on taking this up?

Denita: Well, we certainly as part of the solution, first and foremost look at Australian apprenticeships, and then we look at migration. The difficulty that we’re hearing from the migration stories, there are people in Australia wanting –  sorry, overseas, wanting to come to the country, but the processing of visas is taking way too long. And then of course, we’re having issues around how we actually make eligible people in trades. And when we look at who our competitors are, in Canada and the UK, they have a much more streamlined system of fast-tracking people in the industry. So, this is a worldwide problem. It’s not confined to Australia, and that’s why we’ve really got to focus on our own and in promoting apprenticeships. And may I say the industry hasn’t been good at encouraging half the working population and that is women. Only two per cent of our trade workforce are females and so we need to change that as well.

Bronwen: I’m rolling my eyes as I say this, but we need some TikTok influencers don’t we? To make trades trendy again. Where do you see the solution? So, we know that we’re not replacing the number of people leaving trades, we’re not replacing them with new apprentices, but also those completion rates. We’ve talked about this many times already this hour, Denita, that you know, nearly half of apprentices don’t actually ever finish their training. So where do you think we can focus our energy to get the best results quickly, you know, within the next five years where you have this hurry, hurry, need?

Denita: Let’s focus first on completions because you’re absolutely right. It’s really a worry when we see completions of only 50% per cent. That’s really an issue where we need to make sure that apprentices when they’re undertaking apprenticeships are looked after properly, that we have appropriate mentoring. We certainly have recommended to the government greater support of group training companies that are actually the employers, that actually provide additional support over and above the host employers. So that is certainly a solution that we think has got considerable merit. We also are of the view that we need to ensure that apprentices when they start their apprenticeship, are actually getting an idea of the outcomes from a long term perspective. We’ve seen many that will do one or two years and then go and use that expertise in a high paying job without completing their trade which will help them in the long term. So there’s some education there as well.

Richelle: Denita, so good to hear from you. Thanks so much for your time.

Denita: Pleasure. Thank you.

Richelle: Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Australia.

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

Sign up to our news and media mailing list.