The residential and commercial construction industry has added its voice to the legion of business sectors advocating for immigration levels to be raised to assist local and regional economies, with the South Australian division of the Master Builders Association (MBA) predicting significant skill shortages in the near future unless changes to Australia’s migration program are made.

Director of Operations at the MBA, David Callan, says that at the current rate South Australia will be struggling to find enough locally-trained skilled workers within two years, as the demand for qualified tradespeople rises again with the natural fluctuation of the market.

‘Right now we’re in a cycle where there isn’t a great deal of demand for certain types of skills and apprentices, such as wet trades’ he said.

‘However in a couple of years’ time when the cycle is on the upturn and there is investment in South Australia again, there is going to be a need for skills, and of course we’ll undergo shortages.

‘We’re only training a total of around 1,940 apprentices in building and construction at the moment, which is way too short of what we’re going to need. It’s about half the amount.’

The MBA says the predicted drought will occur at least in part due to the skills and labour ‘vacuum’ created by major projects such as the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide Oval redevelopment and accompanying Riverbank precinct.

‘Everyone is attracted to these major projects, and other tier one commercial contractors are finding it hard to source and engage high-level contractors or tradespeople to undertake their own work,’ said the MBA Director of Policy, Ian Markos.

‘I think within a couple of years the shortages will show, as projects such as the [New Royal Adelaide Hospital] come online, and we see a revitalised domestic market also.’

Mr Callan is quick to point out that an ideal solution to this fluctuating level of demand already exists through Australia’s skilled migration program, but has become increasingly complicated and frustrating for employers to use due to the amount of red tape involved in the process.

‘The Master Builders Association has always had a policy to support population growth through skilled migration in order to support and add to our existing skills base in Australia.’

‘However the visa program in recent times has become overly complex, complicated, and inconsistent, making it very hard for employers to understand and follow.’

When asked whether the MBA would support the reinstatement of the regional 457 visa that was available under the Howard Government, there was no hesitation.

‘Having different conditions for 457’s regionally across Australia is vital,’ he said.

‘The cost of living and cost of labour across Australia is very different. There must be some concessions, because migrants want to come to Australia…and employers are very happy to employ them.

‘However if they are forced to conform to a national policy, it makes it very difficult for South Australia to compete.’

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