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Research finds changing languages in construction sector

Media release

Research finds changing languages in construction sector

Media release
New analysis by HIA shows a shift in languages spoken in the construction industry pointing to a significant diversification taking place in the workforce, but it also warns that unless the government unlocks new construction migration pathways the industry will struggle to meet its target of building 1.2 million houses within five years.

A research paper utilising census data, carried out by the HIA, shows that despite a rise in languages other than English spoken within the industry, the skilled migration system is letting the construction industry down.

“The failure to facilitate skilled migration in the construction industry is enabling the labour shortages to continue, which is contributing to longer build times and higher construction costs. Higher construction costs are contributing to fewer homes being built and deteriorating housing affordability,” said Geordan Murray, HIA Executive Director – Future Workforce & Industry Research.

“Analysis shows that between the 2011 and 2021 census the construction industry workforce grew by 29 per cent. Within this, the number of workers who reported English as the primary language spoken at home increased by 25 per cent, while the number reporting they spoke another language increased by 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.

“There has also been a shift away from traditional European migrants in the workforce being the majority with Asian and Middle eastern becoming more prominent.

Currently there are over 200 languages and dialects spoken by those in the construction workforce. 

“The increased cultural and linguistic diversity in the construction industry over the last decade is a positive reflection Australia’s success as a multicultural society,” said Mr Murray.

But Mr Murray says that even though voices in the industry are changing the same problems still remain.

The construction industry accounts for 9 per cent of Australia’s total workforce, yet only 6.4 per cent of those who migrated to Australia over the last decade are working in this industry. 

“The construction industry still rates very poorly when compared to other sectors when recruiting migrant workers. Only 24.2 per cent of the construction industry migrated to Australia at some point, this ranks 16th out of Australia’s 19 major industry sectors. 

“The industry is well short of the national average of 32 per cent. The finance and insurance services sector has the largest share of migrant workers at 39.6 per cent. 

“This 2.6 percentage point gap ranks as third largest amongst the 19 major industry sectors, only the public administration and education sectors fared worse. 

“Despite a series of reviews, public consultations, and the release of the Government’s Migration Strategy, there is little to suggest that anything is going to improve the construction industry’s ability to recruit skilled workers from overseas. 

“We must do better for the system needs fixing, without these workers there is very little chance of building the 1.2 million homes the government aims to deliver over the next five years,” concluded Mr Murray.

For more information, please view the research paper here

For more information please contact:

Geordan Murray

Executive Director – Future Workforce
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