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Diverse voices rise in construction but migration hurdles put housing goals at risk


New analysis by the Housing Industry Association (HIA) has highlighted a significant shift in the language diversity within Australia’s construction industry workforce. However, it also raised concerns that without improvements to the migration system for skilled construction workers, the industry may struggle to meet its ambitious housing targets. The HIA’s research utilized census data to reveal changes in the workforce’s linguistic landscape, pointing to a broader diversification trend but also highlighted systemic issues with the skilled migration system.

Geordan Murray, HIA Future Workforce and Industry Research, emphasised the detrimental impact of the current skilled migration system on the construction industry. “The failure to facilitate skilled migration in the construction industry is enabling the labour shortages to continue,” he explained. According to Murray, this not only contributes to longer build times and higher construction costs but also exacerbates the issue of deteriorating housing affordability.

The research paper compared census data from 2011 and 2021, revealing a 29 per cent growth in the construction industry workforce. Within this period, the number of workers speaking English at home grew by 25 per cent, while those speaking other languages saw a more significant increase of 56 per cent. “The workforce who speaks a language other than English at home grew at a rate that is more than double the rate of the English speaking cohort,” Murray noted. The findings also indicate a shift away from predominantly European migrants to a workforce with a more substantial presence of Asian and Middle Eastern origins, reflecting greater cultural and linguistic diversity.

Despite this increased diversity, Murray highlighted that the construction industry still faces significant challenges in recruiting migrant workers. Currently, the sector employs only 6.4 per cent of migrants who have moved to Australia over the last decade, ranking it 16th out of Australia’s 19 major industry sectors for migrant worker recruitment. “The industry is well short of the national average of 32 per cent,” Murray added, pointing out the need for systemic changes to improve the situation.

Murray also criticised the outcomes of recent reviews, public consultations, and the government’s Migration Strategy for failing to address the construction industry’s skilled worker recruitment challenges. “We must do better; the system needs fixing. Without these workers, there is very little chance of building the 1.2 million homes that the government aims to deliver over the next five years,” he concluded, stressing the urgency of reform to achieve national housing goals.

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