Desperate employers are hiring candidates without local experience, bringing in workers from overseas and even using sign on bonuses as demand for workers as the construction sector surges and companies scramble to attract and retain talent.

In a new report, recruitment outfit Hays said a surge in building activity meant employers in Sydney in particular were desperate for staff, while those in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast faced a ‘depleted’ candidate pool amid growing volumes of work.

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“The recruitment market in Sydney has never been so candidate short,” Hays said. “This has created a major challenge for construction contractors that have won projects but are now struggling to find the right people to help them do the work.

“In response, companies are now considering measures they would not have previously. These include considering candidates with no local experience, sponsoring candidates from overseas and even occasionally offering a sign on bonus.”

Demand is also strong on the labour front, where employers are speeding up hiring time by hiring after only single interviews and making greater use of counter offers to retain talent.

Trade professionals are being ‘spoilt for choice’ and receiving many offers simultaneously, Hays said.

Around Australia, demand for skilled professionals and tradespeople has soared as work has ramped up on major housing and infrastructure projects, especially in eastern states.

All up, around 53,800 people were added to the sector’s workforce over the two years to November last year, according to ABS figures. Almost 40,000 of these were concentrated in New South Wales alone.

Hays says the favourable conditions are creating opportunities to upgrade candidates’ roles at a time when employers are increasingly willing to fast-track promotions in order to retain staff.

Leading hands, for example, are now able to develop their roles into those of forepersons, who in turn are able to grow their role into those similar to site managers.

Candidates are also upgrading their profiles on job boards and social media outlets in order to receive notification of the best jobs first, Hays said.

In terms of states, Hays says New South Wales is leading the way as a massive pipeline of residential, commercial and civil projects generates demand for site managers and forepersons across all aspects of construction, project managers (especially with fit-out experience) and site administrators to support contract administrators. Carpenters, plumbers and sheet metal workers are sought after on the trades side of the equation along with electricians and civil/general labourers.

Candidate shortages have also taken hold in Queensland, where the market is benefiting from an upturn in apartment projects, a reasonable volume of work in commercial building including a large number of refurbishments, and the anticipated expansion of a number of shopping centre outlets this year. Roles in high demand include general residential floorpersons, contract administrators, site managers, commercial project managers and finishers forepersons.

In the ACT, a reasonable volume of high-rise residential and mixed-use residential developments is driving demand for project managers with relevant experience as well as contract administrators to support these roles. Most hiring is on a full-time basis with a preference for previous experience working in Canberra.

While demand may be easing in Western Australia, employers are still hiring amid a decent pipeline of work. The focus remains upon full-time work in Perth for now, but Hays expects greater use to be made of temporary recruitment going forward.

Estimators with local market experience are being sought after by both builders and sub-contractors. Site managers and project managers with high-rise experience are in demand.

Estimators are also needed in South Australia, where builders are looking for good candidates who can help them become more competitive and win work in a challenging environment. Civil construction managers are needed for work on upcoming infrastructure projects, while senior project directors with health experience are sought after as builders are keen to win large health projects. Overall, however, general conditions remain subdued, and the current hiring focus revolves predominately around temporary roles.

No commentary is provided in the report for Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Given that overall employment numbers sit at reasonably elevated levels on a historic basis in each of these jurisdictions, however, it is likely that labour market conditions in these areas remain reasonably strong.