Employment in Australia’s construction industry has hit its highest level on record, new data shows.
Released shortly before Christmas, detailed labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the seasonally adjusted number of workers employed throughout the nation’s building and construction sector rose by 15,600 from a previous high of 1.273 million in August to a new record of 1.289 million in November.
At this level, construction employment was 12 percent higher compared with levels seen twelve months earlier in November 2021.
Encouragingly, meanwhile, the sector appears to be finally making gains in gender equity.
Over the five-year period spanning November 2017 until November 2022, the ratio of men to women employed in construction dropped from 8.4 to 1 to now stand at 5.9 to 1. At this level, the ratio is at its lowest since detailed ABS records began almost 40 years ago.
The data comes as November figures from the National Skills Commission show that job vacancies remain at elevated levels across most architecture, engineering and construction occupations despite a seasonal pre-Christmas slowdown in hiring during November.
According to that report:
- In professional occupations, vacancies across construction management, engineering management, urban and regional planning, civil engineering, industrial/mechanical/production engineering, mining engineering and other engineering recorded their highest November readings since the Global Financial Crisis.
- Turning to trades, vacancies for plumbers, electricians and electronic trade workers registered their highest November reading since detailed records began in 2006. Meanwhile, those for carpenters/joiners, painting trades workers and various other trades remain high.
- Finally, in terms of laboring roles, vacancies for crane/hoist/lift operators, earthmoving plant operators, forklift drivers and other mobile plant operators registered their highest November reading on record.
Around Australia, demand for workers in construction is being driven by unprecedented activity levels in residential building as well as a record pipeline of work in public infrastructure.
In residential, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday indicates that as at the end of September, Australia had more dwellings under construction than at any other time on record. This means that the sector remains extremely busy for now notwithstanding that approval and other data indicates a likely slowdown in the near future.
In civil construction, a huge volume of projects means that the pipeline of work stands at record levels across the sectors of roads, bridges, harbours, water, sewerage, electricity and recreation facilities. Meanwhile, a significant number of railway projects and tunnels are underway.
According to its projections issued in June, Infrastructure Australia forecast a shortfall of 89,500 skilled infrastructure workers in the current month (Jan 2023). By this coming September, the shortfall is expected to peak at 111,800.
Tim James, Managing Director of recruitment and workforce solutions specialists Hays, says demand for design and construction workers remains exceptionally strong and is likely to remain that way as the new year progresses.
He says vacancy activity is extremely high in civil work, with a particular focus on transport, railways and clean energy.
“At this stage, we anticipate very strong job vacancy activity in 2023,” James said.
“Traditionally we see a slowdown over Christmas, but sites and projects are ramping back up as people return from their seasonal breaks. There’s no doubt the skills shortage will remain. The state of Australia’s AEC skills shortage is such that even as we come down from historic highs to maintainable levels of vacancy activity, talent attraction will remain competitive.
“The employers we’ve spoken to recently tell us that staff shortages are still their main constraint on growth. They don’t see the shortage of skilled professionals and tradespeople easing any time soon. Some even carried a backlog of work into 2023 due to understaffing and Christmas breaks.”
Going forward, James expects several trends to emerge in 2023.
“Vacancy activity will be high and the skills shortage will remain,” he says.
“Sustainability will be a huge focus. There are myriad new built environment sustainability roles popping up, but a huge shortage of green professionals to fill them. Upskilling is urgently needed.
“We also expect an increased use of temps and contractors. Much of the AEC workforce have worked in temp jobs, so there’ll be plenty of people prepared to make a switch to contracting for a while if needed, especially if hourly rates remain competitive.
“Re the housing construction sector, rising interest rates and material costs may see some projects delayed or put on hold, but the market remains active overall and most builders have contracts in place through to the end of the year thanks to our growing population.
“Another trend to watch is the push for more gender diversity. The Victorian Government’s Building Equality Policy came into effect in 2022, the ACT Government announced that bidders for the construction of a new primary school must have a female management team and women employed in every sub-contractor, and Western Australia announced a 12-month pilot requiring public sector suppliers with more than 100 employees to meet gender equality requirements.”
Finally, James urges consideration of several strategies to achieve best possible outcomes.
For employers, it is important to sell their opportunity and to share information about forward plans and projects during interviews. This will help to establish candidate confidence in the role, project and organisation. It is particularly important as candidates value job security and wish to learn about the project/projects on which they will be working.
Next, employers should promote the scope of work along with any opportunities for upskilling and development. This is important as candidates are attracted to roles that enable them to expand their expertise.
Upskilling can also be used to help fill any roles which may be impacted by skills shortages. Where prospective candidates meet eight out of ten requirements, for example, there may be opportunities to upskill them on the final two requirements.
Third, remuneration needs to be fair and competitive. Employers also need to be flexible, be prepared to negotiate for preferred candidates and be ready to respond to counter-offers.
Finally, whilst selling the role is important, James stresses the need to provide an accurate representation of the role and opportunity on offer. With such strong competition for talent, he says some employers have neglected to do this and have rushed to position opportunities in the best possible light in order to secure preferred candidates.
This leads to consequences when the reality of the job or organisation differs from that which has been promised. It can lead to staff leaving, increased turnover and damage to corporate reputation from an employment perspective.
For candidates, meanwhile, it is important to be realistic about salary expectations and to avoid pricing themselves out of consideration notwithstanding current levels of demand and the candidate friendly nature of market conditions.
Next, candidates should build relationships and adopt a proactive approach to job searching. This includes following up applications to position themselves at the front of employer’s minds. Where they fail to secure particular roles, candidates should enquire about other opportunities which the employer may have that may also be suitable.
Finally, candidates should put their best foot forward.
“Sell yourself: Know your unique selling points and share concrete evidence of your achievements,” James said.
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