Tradie shortage as building booms

Kate Emery
Cheers to good times: Enjoying a coldie after knocking off after another hard day's work are Chad Simpson, Larry Shaw, Frankie "Pancho" McHenry and Ian "Turpie" Player. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

A surge in home building has ushered in boom-time conditions for WA's bricklayers and roof carpenters, sending rates higher as the industry struggles to meet demand.

The State's biggest builder, BGC, is employing more bricklayers than ever before. Some specialist trades say they are having trouble attracting or retaining staff in such conditions.

At the same time, the size of WA's construction industry has hit a record high of 145,710 people employed.

But the stellar run for trades-people may be nearing an end, with industry sources forecasting conditions to ease this year.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures out yesterday showed new home activity in WA rose 5.1 per cent in the September 2014 quarter with 8357 new residential builds. The State also recorded its strongest quarter for new builds of multi-unit dwellings.

The activity was mirrored across the nation, with South Australia the only State to record a fall in new-home building.

First-homeowner grant figures had a modest rise in applications received in December, up from 1551 to 1578. The number of grants paid during the month fell from 1603 to 1425.

BGC Residential chief executive Kelvin Ryan said the market had been building for 12 months and anyone who wanted to work in WA's housing industry was now doing so.

"The biggest single thing that's been an issue has been maintaining the trade base," he said.

"We've got more bricklayers working with us than we ever had before. Typically what happens is it (demand) goes from bricklayers to roof carpenters and ceramic tilers. There's pressure on rates, there's no doubt there's always pressure on rates.

"Unfortunately, there is an unchallenged rule in construction that time is of the essence and you have to play the game and pay the rates to get the construction completed."

Master Builders Association WA director of housing Geoff Cooper said demand for bricklayers over the past 12 months had created a bottleneck and pushed rates up as much as 20 per cent.

"Builders still have substantial order books and there has been an increase in construction over the past 12 months, which has pushed out construction times by more than 10 weeks," he said.

"It will take some time for that workload to be completed, so over the course of the next year I think you're going to see that work completed.

"Once that work is completed, when you look at next year (2015-16) current indications are that it has eased, so unless we see interest rate cuts we'd expect to cut back the number of new houses."