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Interview with Sarah Morice, ABC News Radio


Event: Interview with Sarah Morice, ABC News Radio
Date: 27 March 2024, 11.15am AEDT
Speakers: Alex Waldren, National Director Industry Policy Master Builders Australia
Topics: housing supply; labour shortages; migration


Sarah Morice, host ABC NewsRadio: Now, here on News Radio, we talk a lot about the housing shortage and the desperate need to build more homes and build them quickly too. Well, there have been some fairly ambitious plans talked about, including the government setting a target of 1.2 million new homes to be built across the country by 2029. That’s not that far away. That’s five years away. The problem is, we have a shortage of builders and construction workers, a big shortage. Master Builders Australia has released its supplementary budget submission where it’s made a few suggestions on how we might be able to bridge that labour shortfall and I’m joined now by Alex Waldren, who is the National Director of Industry Policy at Master Builders Australia. Hi, Alex.

Alex Waldren, National Director Industry Policy Master Builders Australia: Hi, Sarah.

Sarah: How short of tradies are we and where are we going to find them?

Alex: Yeah, okay, we’ve got a chronic workforce shortage and BuildSkills Australia has just recently said we need 90,000 tradies in 90 days.

Sarah: Woah.

Alex: Master Builders has been saying for a number of years now that we need half a million workers, you know by 2026. The building and construction sector workforce is ageing with around eight per cent of the workforce leaving the industry each year, which is around 100,000 workers. So, we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us and we’re not alone.  Other countries like the UK, US, Canada, they’re all experiencing the same kind of challenges.

Sarah: So where do we get them? I assume we’re going to have to look for migration at this point.

Alex: Yeah. So in our supplementary budget submission, we’ve talked about, you know, trying to address some of the immediate pressures and that is at looking better at utilising the existent migrant workforce in Austria that is, you know, overqualified and underutilised at the moment. You know, we’ve got a proud history of migrant workers in our construction sector, you know, with overseas workers making up 24 per cent of the total workforce, while those who have arrived in Australia in the last five years only represent 2.8 per cent. So we think there’s an opportunity there tap into, you know, a potential workforce there.

Sarah: There are a lot of skilled migrants here in Australia already, but they’re working, as you mentioned, they’re in roles that are below or unrelated to their qualifications or their work experience in their home country, and that’s cause we don’t recognise their qualifications here. What could we change that could harness the skills of these people?

Alex: Looks, so the Parkinson Migration Review has identified the barriers for migrant workers as being cost, time, navigating the system and as well as English language barriers. So Master Builders, in its supplementary submission, is recommending that, you know, governments work together, led by the federal government to provide better access to English language training, to consider financial subsidies for skills gap training to ensure qualifications meet Australian standards, and to support mentoring and coaching to help migrant workers navigate the system. Look, we think industry-registered training organisations are well placed to deliver this skills gap training, so we think there’s sort of potential to bring that about, but it just needs, you know, some tweaks around the framework to make the system easier and simpler for these workers to, you know, get into the construction sector.

Sarah: I know there is some differences when you go state to state or to the territories about occupational licencing requirements. Is this something, if the federal government wants to build all these houses, something they could streamline?

Alex: Yeah, look, there’s been a bit of work done around that already, I think in the last few years. A sort of mutual recognition agreement arrangements were recognised to sort of fast track skills, you know, moving through, you know, different states and territories. There’s more to be done in that space as well. There’s some issues around, you know, the qualifications and what each state and territory considers are required to actually practise in the relevant state and territory. So we think there could be some improvements done there and a more harmonised approach around the country on that front. And that also then links back to international qualifications that, you know, by harmonising that, you know, you could potentially look at harmonising the international qualification framework as well.

Sarah: So, talking of that, we’ve been talking here a little bit about trying to harness the skills of the migrants we already have in the country, but we’re probably going to need more than just those that are already here. Is there a way to entice people with the skills we want to come here in the first place?

Alex: Yeah, look. We’re sort of, we’re competing, as I said, with other countries like Canada, the US and the UK. We know that Canada has a simpler system. The government here in Australia is also looking at some pilots, I think, with the UK and with places like Indonesia around skills exchanges, you know, and there may be opportunities here to sort of explore sort of a faster process when you’re looking at people coming to the country. In terms of domestic workers, you know, it’s making our industry more attractive to the apprentices, you know, and people who want to retrain and get into the industry.

Sarah: Yeah, very true. We’re going to have to leave it there, Alex. But there is a lot to talk about, no doubt.

Alex: There is a lot.

Sarah: We’ll be talking about it again.

Alex: Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah: Pleasure. Alex Waldren there, the National Director of Industry Policy at Master Builders Australia.

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


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