Why tradies are in short supply and renovation costs are soaring

A surge in renovations, propelled by the federal government’s HomeBuilder stimulus scheme, has led to a shortage of qualified tradesmen, huge delays and increased costs.

The Herald Sun reports that the tradie shortage, combined with delays in receiving building supplies, shipped from overseas, could cost some HomeBuilder applicants the government funds they’d relied on to renovate.

The AFR says many renovations will be delayed until next year.

“An analysis of 252 residential building companies by the Association of Professional Builders (APB) has found members have been signing contracts at record levels in the past six months and many are booked out for the next two years,” Nila Sweeney reports.

APB founder Russ Stephens told Ms Sweeney the housing stimulus had created unprecedented demand.

“Builders are all fighting over a limited number of subcontractors and are now more worried about securing enough tradies to deliver the projects than winning more work.”

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The Housing Industry Association Trades Availability report for the December quarter indicated a “significant” upcoming shortfall of skilled labour across all states and territories.

The AFR expects renovation activity across the country to hit its highest level in 20 years. The HIA forecasts renovation projects to jump by 3 per cent by 2021.

“All indications are that this will continue into 2021 as international travel is not expected to return until at least 2022,” said Tim Reardon, HIA chief economist.

Marty Sadlier, director of MCG Quantity Surveyors, says renovation costs are up 10 to 15 per cent because of a lack of competition.

“The largest issue at the moment is the prolonged time frame for works to commence and scarcity of the tradies. The demand is far too high.”

At the launch of HomeBuilder last June, the government anticipated 27,000 Australian households would access a grant and budgeted the uncapped program at about $680 million. Currently, it is projected that 100,000 grants costing more than $2 billion will be accessed by the time applications for the scheme close at the end of March.

Volume home builder Burbank Group says the scheme should be extended to deal with supply delays and skilled worker shortages.  

“It would just ensure that everyone who signed up for the grant receives it,” Burbank’s managing director, Jarrod Sanfilippo, said.

Federal housing minister Michael Sukkar said the government “will continue to work with the sector to maximise the economic impact of this highly effective program”.

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Former sex discrimination commissioner and Liberal politician Pru Goward offered a solution to the tradie shortage last year.


“It beggars belief that we have been importing skilled tradesmen, yes, men, when we have thousands of girls leaving school either to enrol in TAFE or university courses with low job prospects or low pay and, often, which don’t reflect their interests.

“The feedback from TAFE instructors, for your interest, tends to be that girls will often top these courses but not get the jobs.”

Ms Goward says Australia has “one of the most gender-segregated workforces in the developed world”, with only around 3 per cent of jobs in construction and mining-related trades occupied by women.

She says infrastructure investment should be used to “broaden the skilled worker opportunities for neglected sources of labour: women, Indigenous Australians and people with disabilities”.

Such a change would require strong leadership.

“It is not about strength, weight or height requirements. It’s about culture. As sex-discrimination case law so clearly demonstrates, necessary workplace changes are more than extra toilets. They include worksite leadership, mentoring, conversations with the blokes on the tools, and clear rules about acceptable and unacceptable comments and conduct that are demonstrated from the top down. Crucially, they include the foreman or the team leader.”

Media commentator Tamara Wrigley, who buys and renovates properties, told radio station 97.3FM that it was time women joined the ‘boy’s club’ in the trades.

“Manual trades are perceived to be masculine professions, so females don’t generally consider careers in these fields, but they should,” she says.

“The world is changing, and many women go into lower-paid jobs and careers without even considering a trade – but how many women have painted at least one room of a house, or done their own home improvements? A lot!

“Coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon and tradies are essential workers, meaning the work is constant, plentiful, and lucrative. It’s time to get on the hi-vis and lumberjack shirts and claim a piece of that pie.”

Apprentice commencement numbers dived dramatically at the outset of the pandemic and thousands of apprenticeships were cancelled in 2020.

The average taxable annual income for an Australian tradie is $81,636, but many earn over $100k and some starting salaries are as high as $140,000.

Ten per cent of tradies earn over $200,000 per year, more than some doctors.

Should women be encouraged to work in the trades? Have you considered or delayed a renovation this year?

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