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< Back 9 May 2024

Australia is the #1 destination for skilled migrants. Let's not waste it.

Jacob Fredericks, Director Policy and Advocacy
Jacob FredericksLinkedIn

Now is the right time for the construction industry to attract the best and brightest skilled workers from overseas. The Boston Consulting Group’s recent report, Decoding Global Talent 2024: Dream Destinations and Mobility Trends, estimates that up to 800 million professionals around the world may be actively looking for work abroad.

In great news for Australia, the Report found we are the number one destination for overseas workers. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Australia offers high wages, great job opportunities, security, and high living standards. In a further boon for the construction industry, the report found that skilled trades are one of most mobile industries.

What does this mean for the built environment sector? BuildSkills estimates that an additional 90,000 skilled trade workers are needed to meet national housing commitments alone. Demand is only expected to increase as renewable energy projects ramp up, and major infrastructure commitments are delivered. We can only meet so much of this demand by tapping local labour pools. The rapid increase in demand means the sector needs to look beyond Australian borders.

A 2022 ABS Jobs in Australia report shows that construction accounted for only 5.4% of migrant jobs, yet the industry accounts for closer to 10% of all workers. A strategic approach to migration focussed on increasing construction workers in the migration intake can help plug some of the immediate skills shortages while local talent is developed. The attractiveness of Australia as a work destination means we can afford to be selective. We have the opportunity to attract highly skilled workers that will support national growth and increase productivity.

While this is good news, firms need to be open to engaging overseas workers. We need to create a culture that supports skilled migrants. Firms can do this through hiring approaches, creating targeted employee value propositions for overseas workers, and considering relocation support.

The government also has a role to play. Changes to the visa system through the national Migration Strategy will make it easier for firms to use skilled migrants to complement their existing workforce. The National Skills Passport is also in important initiative that will support mobility for workers.

The Federal Government recently made a pre-Budget announcement of $90.6M to boost the number of skilled workers in the construction and housing sector. This includes $1.8M to streamline skills assessments for up to 1,900 potential migrants from countries with comparable qualifications to work in the construction sector, and prioritise the processing of around 2,600 Trades Recognition Australia skills assessments.

However, there is still more that can be done. The Federal and State Governments should work with the industry analyse the workforce needs. This will ensure that local firms needs are met. In our response to the consultation process on the draft Core Skills Occupation List, we propose adopting a more strategic approach to migration that prioritises the most important industries to the nation's future.

For their part, State Governments should consider the patchwork of licensing requirements that prevent skilled migrants transferring easily between jurisdictions. Due to the historically low numbers, some states and territories may not have the systems and process in place to license overseas workers. With demand for skilled labour, and overseas workers keen to come to Australia, there is a window of opportunity to progress a nationally consistent approach to the licensing of trade workers.