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Interview with Susan Graham-Ryan, ABC Radio Queensland


Event: Interview with Susan Graham-Ryan, ABC Radio Queensland
Date: 4 June 2024, 9.15am AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: housing crisis; skills shortages.


Susan Graham-Ryan, ABC Radio Queensland: Skills, skills, skills. We hear a lot about the need for them. We need them to build houses, to connect essential services like power, water, communication. But those skills are few and far between, especially here in regional Queensland. Well, the federal government has released its draft priority skills list for migrants. Basically, it’s a list of occupations that are needed to be filled now, and a forecast of those that we’ll need in the future. Australia is facing a shortfall of 90,000 construction workers to meet the government target of 1.2 million new homes by the end of the decade. Government said more consultation was needed for trades including plumbers, bricklayers and cabinet makers, and lots of other trades too. So, with housing recording record high prices, why do we still have a shortfall of tradies? Denita Wawn is the chief executive of Master Builders Australia and joins me now. Good morning.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning. Great to be with you.

Susan: Thank you. So why do we have a shortage of trainings at the moment? That’s an extreme shortage!

Denita: It is unfortunately an extreme shortage, and its decades in the making. We’ve seen in the 80s a real focus on tertiary education to the detriment of vocational education, including trades. And now we’re suffering the consequences of it. So, we are desperately focused on encouraging anyone, whether they’re finishing school or looking for a career change, to enter the trades. But we know that we simply cannot meet the needs with domestic labour supply alone, and we need to look at migration as well.

Susan: So, Denita you are in the industry, you would hear from all sorts of different people about possible solutions here. What do you think needs to be done to solve this tradie shortage?

Denita: Well, there’s a couple of things. First and foremost, people understanding the opportunities available to undertaking a trade. Certainly, there is some misconceptions that “I need to go to uni to make a decent living.” That’s certainly not the case. Construction is the third highest paying industry in the country. You can do extraordinarily well. I think it’s going to be one of the last of the skills that’s going to be taken over by AI, so it’s hopefully got a lot of longevity to it. So, there’s lots of opportunities. We also know that we have not attracted half of the working population, which are females, and we’re doing a lot through our Women Building Australia program to encourage more women into the sector, and it’s great to see a large swathe of women entering into the sector actually in their 30s, looking at career changes. But skilled migration is also the solution as well. And we need to ensure that the barriers to entry are resolved and that we have a greater capacity to train and to bring in skilled migrants. But we also know there’s a lot of migrants in the country already, that they find it too hard and too expensive to get their skills recognised in this country, and we certainly commend the government in the federal budget putting some money towards helping those people that are keen to enter but simply cannot do so.

Susan: You’re hearing from Denita Wawn, the chief executive of Master Builders Australia here on ABC Radio Queensland. It is coming up to 19 past nine, and this morning I was having a look at the skills priority list and for Queensland the jobs that are considered as both “shortage” as well as with an “above average future demand.” Of the 16 that met both of those criteria were things like actuary, workers for care of children, older people, people with a disability, lots of cyber security related roles, others included things like conveyances contract administrators, gymnastics instructors, insurance loss adjusters, jockeys and swimming coaches or instructors… Why did the list not include trades that high up if they’re so in demand?

Denita: We’re extraordinarily perplexed as to why Jobs and Skills Australia put most of the construction trades on the maybe list, rather than the definite list, there’s one or two there, but certainly not the vast majority. It seems incredulous to think that Jobs and Skills Australia’s own analysis, along with Build Skills Australia, which is an agency of government, have all said that we’ve got acute shortages in trades, so we’re just flummoxed by the reason why the trades are not in the confirmed list. We are lobbying hard to make sure they are in the final version of this list, but it seems perplexing when we’ve got to build 1.2 million homes over five years, and the biggest hamper on our productivity at the moment is a shortage of trades.

Susan: How can we get more people into trades in Australia domestically? What can we do?

Denita: Well, it’s all a focus about us getting to more parents, more kids and more career advisors about the benefits of a career. I don’t know about any of your listeners, but I was sitting there with my 15-year-old last night, looking at all the year 11 subjects for next year, making a decision on what was going to be in their best interests and what opportunities there were. And certainly, construction is on the list, so I implore people that if they’re looking and supporting their children, to consider a career in construction. Likewise, if you’re looking at a new career, some amazing opportunities. And of course, we cannot forget women. We’ve got an amazing opportunity for women. So go on to our Women Building Australia website to learn more opportunities. There’s a lot of good, good things happening in the sector, we just need to promote it more effectively.

Susan: Denita Wawn, chief executive of Master Builders Australia, thanks for your time this morning.

Denita: Pleasure. Thank you.

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

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