State of the Australian Construction Market: Part II

In the second of our ‘State of the Market’ series, we sit down with leaders in the Australian building industry to glean their insights on how the market has performed over the past 12 months. For this issue, we chat with National Chair of the Australian Institute of Building (AIB), Adj Prof Paul Heather, AM, FAIB to chat about the evolution of the construction industry.

Words by Annie Reid

As a second-generation builder, Prof Heather first visited construction sites with his father at the tender age of four.

During his professional career over the past forty-five years, he’s remained just as close to the industry working across the residential, industry, commercial, retail, mining and major infrastructure sectors.

Joining AIB as a corporate member in 1999, he has served in a variety of roles prior to his current position as National Chair, where he now enjoys supporting and servicing the building profession amalgamating his skills, experiences, education and continued personal development.

What is the current state of the building industry?

According to Prof. Heather, a key issue is the drought of technical and skilled trades Australia is currently suffering.

“Over the next five years, there will be over 80,000 tradespersons and professionals retiring and even if there is deliberately focused training replacement, there will be a shortfall and level of exposure to the industry,” he says.

This has been exacerbated by the shift away from trade training, with young people seeking higher education – the professionalisation of the building industry if you will – and holding a bachelor degree instead, thus creating a surplus of inexperienced builders and further feeding the technical shortcomings across the building process.

What has been the most widespread shortcoming over the past 12 months?

Within Australia’s apartment market specifically, Prof Heather says waterproofing remains a big issue driven by the need to accommodate and deliver vertical living in line with population growth.

“It’s not the application of waterproofing systems in a lot of situations, but rather the construction detailing being the issue,” he says. “In essence, it starts with the architect and developer making arbitrary decisions in both a commercial and aesthetic sense, which results in the end user suffering.”

Another big issue is licensing and Prof Heather believes licences should not be given out too freely.

“It’s a complex industry requiring the gathering of significant learnings and experience before being eligible and to be called a builder. Benchmarks should be set higher for people to get a licence in all states, supported by life-long continual professional development.”

However, with the states all trying to work through the BCA (Building Code of Australia), alongside constantly changing compliance and security requirements, it’s little surprise that confusion results.

“If I don’t know enough to meet all the regulations in my industry, how can you achieve this with only one to two years’ experience?” he says.

Is there a solution?

Prof Heather would like to see people aspire to greater heights and for the industry to take the lead, starting with regulators.

“We have some excellent representation within regulators such as John Tansey, but they’re sometimes hamstrung by other agendas and directions taken by the Government of the day,” he says.

Instead, he’d like to see the industry take steps to fix the home warranty system, to improve the litigious nature of underwriting, and to provide funding on both practitioner and consumer education.

“Excellence could drive costs down and if we all raise the bar, would this not be better for the industry and the product end user, rather than returning to a completed project to effect rework and or remedy?” he says.

And finally: “We need to manage time, cost and quality, safety and wellbeing. We have to accommodate a growing population over the next 20-30 years, so let’s start planning now.”

About the Author: Annie Reid

Annie Reid is a qualified journalist, professional copywriter and published author with a passion for everything bricks and mortar. For many years, she’s written thousand of stories for newspapers, magazines and clients around the world. Somewhere between the heady buzz of headlines and deadlines, she discovered a niche for creating tailor made content for the property, real estate, architecture and design industries. Annie holds a Bachelor of Arts and is currently studying a Masters in Publishing and Communications, both from the University of Melbourne.