As the building and infrastructure boom rolls on, tradespeople across Australia’s residential, commercial and civil construction sector are enjoying extremely buoyant labour market conditions.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of full-time and part-time workers employed throughout the building and construction sector in Australia in May stood at 1.174 million- the second highest level on record, according to data from the ABS. Over the past four years, the construction sector has added 156,000 employees and self-employed businesspeople to its headcount.

The volume of opportunities is continuing to grow. Compared with the same quarter in 2017, the number of jobs advertised for trades and services people on Seek over the three months to June was up by 23 per cent. Job adds for welders; fitters, turners and mechanics; building trades; technicians; gardeners and landscaping, electricians, maintenance and handypersons and labourers were each up by more than that.

Benefits are also extending to machinery operators on major projects. Compared with the same month last year, data from the Department of Small Business and Jobs indicates that vacancies for engineering production systems workers; drillers, miners and shot firers; earthmoving plant operators; crane hoist and lift operators; other stationary plant operators and forklift drivers was up 78 per cent, 60 per cent, 44 per cent, 37 per cent, 34 per cent and 18 per cent respectively.

Driving all this is a construction sector which is firing on every cylinder. In the March quarter, the seasonally adjusted value of building and engineering work done throughout the nation came in at $51.2 billion, according to ABS data. That’s far higher than at any other period except for the years of the resource sector investment boom. Building work ($28.2 billion), has risen by 28 per cent over the past six years. As at March 31, a record 227,010 new houses and apartments were under construction. At $4.536 billion (March quarter), levels of road building work are far beyond anything seen before. Each of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have mega rail projects either planned or in construction. Commercial and public sector building activity is gaining momentum.

This can be seen on the ground. In April, quantity surveying and advisory firm Rider Levitt Bucknall counted 684 cranes across the skylines of Australian cities. Melbourne, Newcastle and Hobart each had more cranes in operation compared with any other count RLB had conducted previously.

That is creating trade shortages across the board. In its latest trades report, the Housing Industry Association reported that 11 of the 13 residential construction trades for which it collects data in are moderate shortage. In order, these include bricklaying (severe shortage) ceramic tiling, plastering, other trades, carpentry, landscaping, roofing, site preparation, joinery, painting and plumbing.

In major civil and commercial work, quantity surveying outfit WT Partnership reports shortages of trades in several areas. This includes formwork, demolition, joinery and plaster boarding trades, concreting and several other areas.

This is feeding through into wage growth. Whereas workers across most of the economy are barely receiving increases in remuneration of two per cent in more, average salaries advertised in trades and services roles throughout the year to May were up by four per cent compared with their levels in the previous corresponding period ending May last year. Security, technicians, welders/boilermakers, painters, maintenance/handyman personnel and carpenters are all pulling in decent rises.

Speaking particularly about the home building side of the industry, Housing Industry Association (HIA) economist Diwa Hopkins says demand is strong as new residential commencements remain at historically elevated levels despite having come off recent peaks. Net tradesperson supply, she said, is a combined function of demand and the number of new apprentices being trained and coming through.


She says trades like bricklaying are in significant undersupply due to their relative exposure to the more buoyant detached home market as opposed to the easing multi-unit sector.

The near term future looks promising. Participants in the latest Property Council of Australia-ANZ Property Industry Confidence Survey expect to increase their levels of construction activity across all major categories. Major contractors surveyed in the most recent Ai Group/Australian Constructors Association Construction Outlook survey expect strong conditions in civil construction and reasonable conditions in commercial building albeit with softer multi-residential activity.

Notwithstanding headlines of pullback in residential investment, meanwhile, the pace at which new work is coming in remains elevated by historic levels. In 2018, the HIA reckon ground will break on 211,000 new homes and apartments. Prior to the recent boom, Australia had broken ground on more than 180,000 homes in a given year only once in the past 30 years (in the late 1980s).

Hotspots of Demand

In the latest edition of its Jobs Report, recruitment outfit Hays says hotspots of demand exist across multiple areas, including:

  • Carpenters across a range of projects
  • Formwork carpenters for work on tier one commercial projects
  • Aluminium carpenters to cater for an increase in façade and cladding work across high-rise projects
  • Concreters for a large number of commercial, residential and infrastructure projects, with candidates with the ability to finish in particular demand
  • Advanced riggers to cater for a rise in concrete tilt panel work on high-rise projects
  • Steel fixers and glaziers to work on multiple projects
  • Electricians and solar electricians.
  • Refrigeration technicians, especially those with installation experience
  • Duct installers with multiple skills and working at heights and elevating work platform tickets
  • Bricklayers/blocklayers amid a lack of apprentices coming through and strong residential activity
  • Civil operators, particularly in Queensland, where large civil and mining project are coming online
  • Pipelayers to work on civil projects
  • Mobile plant operators to work on wind farm and infrastructure projects
  • Skilled excavator operators. Employers want experience as well as certification
  • Bobcat operators with house pad experience and grader operators
  • Heavy diesel mechanics are needed, but generally prefer FIFO roles which offer higher rates
  • Boilermakers to work on new infrastructure projects
  • Mechanical fitters for ongoing maintenance of machinery.
  • A range of final trim tradespeople. This includes experienced final trim excavator operators with deep sewer experience for subdivision projects, final trim grader operators to work on new roads, final trim Bobcat Operators with experience in final trimming car parks and subdivisions, experienced final trim loader operatorsfor subdivisions in sand and wet ground and final trim civil operators for infrastructure projects.
  • Drainers, who work well in a team on subdivision projects
  • Communications technicians
  • Skilled labourers with multiple high-rise tickets for short term assignments
  • Cabinet makers and joiners as large projects reach fit-out stage and require experienced candidates
  • Asbestos workers with certification and recent medicals.