SEEK Employment Trends: spotlight on the trades and services industry

Australia’s robust residential construction industry has led to a growing demand for skilled tradespeople in areas such as plumbing and carpentry. However, experts say declining apprenticeship numbers across the country may have a significant impact on the industry’s talent base in the years ahead.

The skylines of Australia’s capital cities are dotted with cranes, which is a good indication of a booming construction industry. The Australian Crane Index, which was developed by property and construction group RBL to indicate levels of building activity across the country, shows that there were 657 cranes in the skylines of Australia’s capital cities in the second quarter of this year. That’s a 20% increase compared to the final quarter of 2015.

Despite the burgeoning residential construction industry in major cities, data from National Centre for Vocational Education Research shows that the number of Australians beginning an apprenticeship has declined by almost 20% over the past year. In the September quarter of 2015, only 36,000 people began apprenticeships. This number represents a 19.3% decline on the same period the previous year.

“It’s a concern for the long-term future of the candidate pool,” says Adam Shapley, Senior Regional Director of Hays Trades and Labour.

Skills of the trade

Andrew Norman, Talent Acquisition Lead at operations, maintenance and construction services organisation Broadspectrum, says the construction industry is dominating the demand for tradespeople. “Some of our guys have been looking for tradespeople and are struggling to find them because they are probably subcontracting on construction projects,” he says.

Shapley also points to the dominance of residential construction; however, he notes there is growth in other areas. “We are also seeing a healthy pipeline of construction work in retail, aged care and education,” he says.
The latest data from SEEK Employment Trends shows that although there has been a high number of trades and services candidates in the market, relative to the past five years, this has been tightening in recent months and the average advertised salary for the industry in July 2016 is $63,997.

SEEK data shows that the number of job ads for roles such as welders and boilermakers were up by 23% year-on-year for the three-month period of May to July 2016. “Commercial building and infrastructure requires these skills through the building and installation of relevant services, such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning,” says Shapley. “Given the number of projects in these areas, these skills are certainly needed.”

SEEK job ads for plumbers rose by 13% for the same period, while job ads for carpenters and cabinetmakers grew by 11%. “Carpenters remain a highly sought-after trade right now and this is not expected to change any time soon,” adds Shapley. “Formwork carpenters are also needed, especially those with high-rise building experience.”

SEEK job ads for labourers increased by 17% year-on-year for the three-month period of May to July 2016, and building trades roles were up by 4% for the same period.

However, there were some areas of the industry that experienced a decline in SEEK job ads. Painters and sign writers, for example, saw a decline in job ads of 6% over the same period, while job ads for electricians were down by 14%. Shapley says this comes as a surprise. “We’re seeing demand for qualified, licensed electricians, especially in the commercial market,” he says.

Trends across the states

Lindsey Monroe Ruth, Head of Marketing for recruitment firm Adecco in Australia and New Zealand, notes that demand for construction trades in Queensland is looking positive. “We’re seeing good demand,” she says. “The Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast is coming up in 2018 and this has led to more jobs for tradespeople.”

Shapely says demand for candidates in Sydney is solid, thanks to new commercial and residential construction. “The commercial fit-out market in Sydney is similarly busy,” he says.

While residential construction in Melbourne remains strong, large infrastructure projects, such as the Melbourne Metro Tunnel, which is due to kick off next year, is likely to see an increasing demand for skilled tradespeople.

Shapley is also seeing increased demand for trades and services employees in South Australia. “While not booming, South Australia has seen greater positivity in recent months, thanks to a busy residential construction market and a steady flow of large commercial and infrastructure projects,” he says. “All this is creating job opportunities for those with the experience and skills required.”

With apprenticeship numbers beginning to slide across the country, experts say employers may need to work harder to attract the best candidates through positive working conditions and a competitive salary. “The roles are there,” says Monroe Ruth. “It’s just a matter of finding the right candidates.”

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