Builders throughout Australia are planning to use a slowdown in residential construction to train the next generation of apprentices, a new report has found.

The Housing Industry Association has released the latest quarterly edition of its HIA Trades Report, which provides a quarterly review of the status and movements of availability and pricing across 13 critical trades that operate within the residential construction industry.

The report is based on a survey of builders and subcontractors that was undertaken during January.

As part of the report’s preparation, respondents were asked about their intentions regarding apprentices in 2024.

All up, more than half (51 percent) of those surveyed intended to increase their apprentice employment across the year.

This contrasts with only 7 percent who intend to pull back on apprentice employment.

The report also showed that a shortage of tradespeople remains notwithstanding a slowdown in new home approvals and commencements.

All up, the HIA Trades Availability index came in at -0.64 in the final quarter of 2023.

At this level, the shortage of trades has barely eased over the past twelve months, and remains at levels which are elevated by historic standards.

(The index is calculated on scale of potential scores ranging from +2 to -2. Any score which is below zero indicates a shortage in trade availability.)

Each of the thirteen trades that are covered in the report are in short supply. Supply is particularly short in ceramic tiling, bricklaying, carpentry, roofing and plastering.

The shortage was more modest in electrical, plumbing and site preparation.

Meanwhile, shortages are also evident across every location – with Perth, Adelaide and Regional South Australia being most affected.

Not surprisingly, the shortage of trades is pushing up trade prices.

All up, the report showed that trade prices increased by 5.0 percent across calendar 2023.

This remains high despite trade price escalation having moderated from almost 10 percent in 2022.

The latest report comes as the Commonwealth Government has launched strategic review into the Australian Apprenticeships Incentive Scheme, which provides financial incentives and support for employers who take on apprentices across Australia.

The review will examine a range of matters including the current performance of the incentive system and complementary services along with how the apprenticeship support system can be improved to better support high quality apprenticeships and traineeships.

Housing Industry Association Senior Economist Tom Devitt said the residential sector is competing for tradespeople with other sectors such as infrastructure as the nation is undertaking a record level of infrastructure work.

The is keeping demand for skilled tradespeople strong even as approvals in residential construction have slowed.

Devitt says that effort needs to be undertaken to maintain access to skilled migration as well as to provide ongoing support in regard to training and the promotion of careers in the industry.

“Despite the slowdown in building activity, strong demand for skilled tradespeople in other sectors has ensured that building trades remain in high demand,” Devitt said.

“Competing demands from other sectors for skilled trades such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers, are compounding the shortage of tradespeople in residential building …

“The return of overseas workers made a marked difference in addressing what were the most acute shortages of skilled tradespeople since HIA started this Report in 2003.

“The lack of improvement for much of 2023, however, shows the industry is still struggling to find the skilled tradespeople it needs.

“Competition for skilled tradespeople from other sectors – including public infrastructure and other non-residential projects – is intense.  All sectors are now employing significantly more construction workers than just a decade ago.

“This has made it harder for Australia’s home builders to complete the significant pipeline of work taken on during the pandemic.

“It has also pushed up the price of skilled trades …

“… This ongoing demand for skilled tradespeople across the country reinforces the need for polices to attract skilled migrants to Australia.

“Access to skilled migration is essential to respond to cyclical changes in demand. This includes a streamlined and simplified visa program for in-demand trades.

“There also needs to be a conscious effort to promote careers in the industry. There needs to be more support for the apprenticeships and businesses that help train and upskill our existing and future workforce.”


Enjoying Sourceable articles? Subscribe for Free and receive daily updates of all articles which are published on our site


Want to grow your sales, reach more new clients and expand your client base across Australia’s design and construction sector?

Advertise on Sourceable and have your business seen by the thousands of architects, engineers, builders/construction contractors, subcontractors/trade contractors, property developers and building industry suppliers who read our stories across the civil, commercial and residential construction sector