Professionals and tradespeople across the design and construction sector in Australia are in massive demand as new data shows that around two-thirds of occupations across the sector are in shortage.

Released last week by Jobs and Skills Australia, the 2023 edition of the Skills Priority List has analysed current supply and demand for workers in 916 occupations across each state and territory.

Across the broad economy, it found that 36 percent of occupations are in shortage at a national level.

Turning specifically to architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), the situation is more severe.

Of 140 occupations which are broadly related to the AEC sector (see below), the report indicates that shortages exist for 94 occupations.

Indeed, according to the report:

  • Across project and construction management roles, each of three occupations listed are in shortage (construction manager, project manager and engineering manager) both nationally and across every state.
  • Across architecture, design and engineering professionals, 29 out of 35 listed occupations are in national shortage. This includes architects, surveyors, interior designers, urban and regional planners and all 21 categories of engineer.
  • The situation is less severe for architectural, building and engineering technicians, with only 9 out of 20 occupations being in national shortage. Shortages exist for architectural draftspeople, building inspectors and construction estimators as well as civil and mechanical engineering technicians and draftspeople.
  • Major shortages exist for tradespeople across the building, electrical and telecommunications trades. All up, 29 out of 33 occupational categories in this sector are in shortage. This includes every building trade except for lift mechanics and every telecommunications trade.
  • In equipment operation roles, shortages exist for 18 out of 32 occupational categories. This includes shortages for operators of equipment such as general earthmoving equipment, bulldozers, graders, excavators, loaders and railway track plant. It also includes crane, hoist and lift operators, drillers, miners and shot firers.
  • Shortages exist for six of eight construction laboring These include home improvement installers, railway track workers, construction riggers, scaffolders, steel fixers, structural steel erectors and crane chasers.

The latest data comes as Australia has undergone a boom in construction activity amid record levels of detached home building work (though activity is slowing in this sector) and an unprecedented pipeline of public infrastructure development.

This has seen the seasonally adjusted number of people employed throughout the sector rise by almost 200,000 over the past two years from 1.137 million in August 2021 to 1.329 million in August this year, according to detailed labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Not surprisingly, this has led to significant workforce shortages.

In public infrastructure alone, the Public Infrastructure Supply Dashboard published by Infrastructure Australia projects that Australia will have a shortage of more than 105,000 workers as of this month.

Going forward, the nation will need many more workers as the clean energy transition rolls on.

On the same day as the priority list was released, a further report also published by Jobs and Skills Australia found that Australia requires significant growth in its workforce to deliver upon the clean energy transition.

Over the next 27 years, that report suggests that the number of people who are employed across 38 occupations which are critical to the clean energy transition will need to increase from less than 1.6 million now to 2.2 million by 2050 if Australia is to meet its net zero goals.

By that time, the nation will need to grow its construction and engineering workforce to around two million workers.

In a statement, Master Builders Australia said that both the priority list and the clean energy report underscore the importance of vocational education and training.

“A VET qualification is the highest level of education attained for over 600,000 building and construction workers,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said.

“This is 54 per cent of the total workforce and 80 per cent of workers that have a post-school qualification …”

“… Ensuring the VET sector delivers high quality training that is occupation- and industry-relevant and valued by employers and the Australian population more broadly is critical to meeting current and future workforce needs in the building and construction industry.”