According to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, the construction industry accounts for 9% of Australia’s total GDP and supports more full-time work than any other sector. Given this, any downturn in the construction industry is sure to detract from Australia’s long-term economic growth. The surge of the Omicron variant has caused an unprecedented disturbance in the Australian construction industry with owners and employees alike facing higher daily risks of exposure amidst already risky work.
Though there is no lockdown mandate still in order, many workers strongly consider the impact of working in high-contact areas for long periods of time as they aim to avoid contracting the virus and passing it on to their network. Moreover, mandatory vaccinations are also contributing to the shortage as vaccine hesitancy has caused many skilled tradespeople to switch industries. As a result, there have been lengthy delays to existing and future projects and is predicted to intensify if the outbreak is not managed in the near future.
As Australia’s construction industry continues to struggle with its high-risk and sick workforce, the shortage of labour has invariably led to widespread vacancies across different projects. The construction workforce had already been amongst the most impacted by the initial statewide lockdowns in the earlier part of the pandemic and with the surge in Omicron cases, new opportunity is abound for emerging tradies. Stats reveal since the lockdown took hold in Australia, around 780,000 Aussies lost their jobs. From corporate to construction industries, filling these roles is still top priority for many business owners.
If worker shortages are not bolstered soon, the industry could be headed for uncharted waters. One of the major risks of the construction sector is inflation- which will hamper the economic growth of the whole country. Less construction output will mean higher interest rates for houses and commercial property. Without a sufficient top-up of skills and talent for the widespread vacancies, the economic haemorrhaging will continue.
With border restrictions still very much in effect, the major source of labour in Australian construction is from local tradespeople. To promote a skilled labour influx within the country, the wait is set to continue as the spread of Omicron bars an overseas labour force from filling vacancies as well as deters locals from exposure to high-risk environments.
Given the dramatic drop in labour force numbers, the industry is staring down the barrel of extreme project delays. Between improved protective workwear, health education and worker incentives, the industry’s roadmap to recovery will be underpinned by some big changes. Project delays are detrimental to long-term quality infrastructure goals so employers have to create a safer working environment for their workers, old and new.