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Interview with Simon Marnie, ABC Sydney


Event: Interview with Simon Marnie, ABC Sydney
Date: 7 April 2024, PM AEST
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Labour shortages, female participation, apprenticeships, Housing Accord


Simon Marnie, ABC Sydney Host: Simon Marnie here with you, well with the federal government’s plans to address Australia’s housing crisis, with the goal of building 1.2 million new homes in the next five years, the country’s peak construction association, the Master Builders of Australia, is asking just how the government plans to do that. Because the number of trade apprentices continues to plummet. The Chief Executive of the Master Builders of Australia Denita Wawn is with us here now. And Denita, just take me through how likely it is we’ll achieve that goal of 1.2 million new homes by 2029.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Hi Simon, well, I’m a fairly optimistic person, so I’m going to say we need to achieve it simply because if we don’t, then the housing crisis we’re experiencing now is only going to get worse. So, the simple reality is we need to achieve it, and our forecasts that we’ve put out today say that we’re going to get close to 1.1. So, there’s not much extra effort needed to get to 1.2. And so, we need to really need to focus on what we need to do for that extra, extra stretch, and that is all about people. And it’s also all about planning as well.

Simon: Those houses have to be built by people and you, I believe, are saying there’s a workforce shortage?

Denita: Yes, unfortunately, we’ve had decades now of record shortages in our sector. This has been compounded both pre and post COVID. As we see an aging workforce in our sector, and it’s really decades in the making of just simply not encouraging enough people into the trades. And we exacerbate things ourselves by not encouraging women into the industry and therefore ignoring half of the working population. So, we’ve got some work to do ourselves, but equally, we’re asking for government support, and may I commend Minister O’Connor and the state skills Ministers, where they have identified that we need to pool all efforts in to resolve this trade shortage.

Simon: Denita Wawn is with us from Master Builders Association. So, let me drill down here, if it’s not a high demand career for people to move into, and you’re saying young people and women, first of all, for women, what can be done to make it a more attractive and accessible career?

Denita: Well, I think firstly, we need to make sure that our HR is best practice. And we try to encourage that as much as we can at Master Builders. We run an awards program that promotes best practice in business, including HR, we also run our Women Building Australia program that includes mentoring for new entrants into the sector, and helping them along their journey of working in male dominated industry. So, there’s a range of things that we can do as leaders in the sector. Likewise, we’ve got a lot of champions of change, that are really leading the charge where they’re now seeing up to 30 – 40 per cent of their workforce, are women. So, we’ve got a lot to do, but equally, we need to ensure that we’re providing the best access into the industry, including things like more flexible patterns of work.

Simon: And more toilets for women on building sites.

Denita: It’s as simple as that! More toilets, more female friendly high vis, the list goes on. It is getting better, but nevertheless, it’s the simple things that sometimes make the difference.

Simon: Denita Wawn, CEO of the Master Builders, Australia, so then we get to young people generally, why are we seeing less people start trade apprentices?

Denita: I think there’s been a cultural shift in the country probably over about 30 odd years ago, where university was highly promoted, and still is, and the trades unfortunately, have been a bit of treated as a bit of a second-class citizens when it comes to career opportunities. But nevertheless, opportunity working in building construction is fantastic. We know AI is not going to take over building construction anytime soon. And so, we need to highlight to anyone thinking about a career in the industry, how good it is, what the opportunities are. The pay is one of the highest industries in the country. And of course, many of the people that work in our sector are running their own businesses and people do enjoy being their own boss. So, we’ve got to convince people, including parents, that doing a trade is a noble profession, just like going to university.

Simon: Very shortly I’m going to talk with Amber Flohm, she’s the Deputy Vice President of the Teachers Federation. When we raised this on the weekend show so many people said that TAFE was just so stripped back, they weren’t able to deliver the apprentices or the quality apprentices that industry needed.

Denita: Yes, unfortunately, there is a real shortage of trainers and teachers in our registered training organisations, whether it’s a TAFE, Master Builders Associations around the country run training centres themselves, and we know how hard it is to get quality trainers. So that is an issue in itself. It’s hard to attract people to be a trainer when they can make so much money working on the tools themselves. So that is an issue that we need to address regardless of who the provider is, absolutely.

Simon: Denita Wawn, thanks for joining us.

Denita: Pleasure. Thank you so much.


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


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