MBA urge action to lift apprenticeship numbers

April 5, 2024 BY

MBA chief executive officer Denita Wawn, seen here speaking in Geelong in 2022, said the existing building and construction industry workforce was ageing. Photo: JAMES TAYLOR

The latest apprenticeship and trainee dataagain confirms building and construction industry concerns of a critical labour shortage in the middle of a housing crisis, according to Master Builders Australia (MBA).

MBA chief executive officer Denita Wawn said in the year to September 2023, 42,333 new apprentices started in the building and construction industry.

“This represents an appalling 25 per cent reduction on the previous 12-month period.

“The number of apprentices in training in building and construction has decreased since September 2022, when there were 124,120 apprentices in training, to 120,881 in September 2023 – down 3 per cent.

“Over the year to September 2023, a total of 21,814 construction apprentices completed their training. This represents a reduction of 7.9 per cent on a year earlier.

“We need more apprentices starting and completing their training in trades,” Ms Wawn said.

Despite this reduction, building and construction remains by far the largest employer of apprentices of any industry.

“Latest figures show that 120,881 building and construction apprentices were in training at the end of September 2023 – representing 33 per cent of all Australian apprentices,” Ms Wawn said.

“VET is central to skills and knowledge development in the building and construction industry.

“More than 600,000 of the 1.3 million workers in building and construction have a VET qualification.”

She said construction was the backbone of the Australian economy, employing about 1.3 million people and providing homes, infrastructure, and commercial and community buildings.

“But the building and construction industry workforce is ageing and has a typical exit rate of 8 per cent a year. Master Builders estimates we need half a million new entrants over the next three years.

“We are not doing enough to plug this gap. There are not enough new entrants to the industry to meet building and construction targets, including 1.2 million new dwellings under the Housing Accord, or the transition to net zero by 2050.

“Vocational education and training has been seen as the second-class citizen to universities for far too long.”

Ms Wawn said MBA had been a long-time critic of the bias that led people away from the VET system.

“We need to change people’s perceptions of working and needing a vocational education to look at trades as a pathway into a vibrant, well-paid and very large industry.

“Making VET more attractive plays a crucial role in strengthening our domestic workforce capabilities.

“The recently released report on the inquiry into VET perceptions has rightfully made recommendations to putting VET and higher education on equal footing, investing significantly in careers education from an early age, supporting careers advisers to help young people make informed choices, promoting pathways to VET-based careers for women and delivering national campaigns to promote VET pathways.

“We know what needs to be done, and federal, state and territory governments have an enormous task of unwinding decades of neglect, so it’s time for rubber to hit the road.”

According to Ms Wawn, addressing the immediate labour shortage required a multifaceted approach.

“While efforts to strengthen domestic apprenticeships are vital, it’s evident that domestic sources alone cannot fill the workforce gaps in the short term,” she said.

“Skilled migration and better utilising the skilled migrants already in the country but who are not currently working in the industry are vital pieces of the puzzle.”