Employment in Australia’s construction industry has hit a record high, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The seasonally adjusted number of workers employed throughout the building and construction sector rose by 15,600 from a previous record of 1.273 million in August to a new record of 1.289 million in November.
The rise in construction activity has increased demand for timber products, according to Timberbiz, which reports that supply shortages, rising freight costs and limited global supply chains have led to higher prices.
At the end of September 2022, Australia had more dwellings under construction than at any other time on record. Over the five-year period between November 2017 and November 2022, the ratio of men to women employed in construction dropped from 8.4 to 1 to 5.9 to 1. While the sector still has some way to go in terms of gender equity, this is the lowest ratio since detailed ABS records began nearly 40 years ago.
The National Skills Commission’s November 2022 figures reveal that job vacancies remain at elevated levels across most architecture, engineering and construction occupations, despite a seasonal pre-Christmas slowdown in hiring during November. In professional occupations, vacancies across construction management, engineering management, urban and regional planning, civil engineering, industrial/mechanical/production engineering, mining engineering and other engineering recorded their highest November readings since the Global Financial Crisis. Trades vacancies also increased, with vacancies for plumbers, electricians and electronic trade workers registering their highest November reading since detailed records began in 2006. Demand for workers in construction is being driven by unprecedented activity levels in residential building and a record pipeline of work in public infrastructure.
In the residential construction sector, data released by the ABS indicates that, as of the end of September, Australia had more dwellings under construction than at any other time on record. This means that the sector remains busy, despite approval and other data indicating a likely slowdown in the near future. In civil construction, a huge volume of projects means that the pipeline of work stands at record levels across the sectors of roads, bridges, harbours, water and sewerage, electricity, and recreation facilities. Meanwhile, a significant number of railway projects and tunnels are underway.
The Infrastructure Australia projections issued in June forecast a shortfall of 89,500 skilled infrastructure workers in January 2023, with the shortfall expected to peak at 111,800 by September 2023. Tim James, managing director of Hays, a recruitment and workforce solutions specialist, says demand for design and construction workers remains exceptionally strong. “Rising interest rates and material costs may see some projects delayed or put on hold, but the market remains active overall, and most builders have contracts in place through to the end of the year thanks to our growing population,” he said.
Another trend to watch is the push for more gender diversity. The Victorian government’s Building Equality Policy came into effect in 2022, while the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government announced that bidders for the construction of a new primary school must have a female management team and women employed in every sub-contractor. Western Australia has announced a 12-month pilot requiring public sector suppliers with more than 100 employees to meet gender equality requirements.
In response to the demand for timber, the Timber Framing Collective has launched an initiative to increase the use of engineered timber products in the Australian building industry. The Collective aims to promote sustainable building practices and address supply chain challenges through local production.