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Construction boom exposing underfunded VET sector

The big stories about the future of employment have generally been focused on the healthcare sector. While the healthcare industry is seeing huge growth and is predicted to maintain it over the coming decade, it is important not to overlook other areas in the midst of a boom.

Second only to healthcare in growth, the construction sector is growing at a prodigious rate. It is the third biggest employer in Australia, behind healthcare and retail, and continues to add jobs at a steady rate. From November 2017 to January 2018 alone, the sector added 26,600 employees.

Housing Industry Australia predicts that the number of homes built each year will need to increase to over 230,000 annually to meet the demand. Projections from the last census predict that the Australian population may reach nearly 50 million by 2061. The birth-rate continues to add more people to the population, while the average life expectancy will continue to increase and may be as high as 93. This creates a squeeze at both ends of the property market as more first home buyers try to get on the property ladder and older people remain on it for significantly longer.

This comes at a time when vocational training is struggling to keep up with Australia's skills shortage. Bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters, glaziers, plumbers, and many construction-related trades are experiencing shortages, mainly on the east coast, with employers struggling to fill roles throughout the sector.

Both federal and state funding has been slashed and as the number of government funded VET enrolments has steadily fallen over the last few years, so too has the number of students embarking on a certificate or diploma qualification. VET courses are an important stepping stone to employment or further study, and the cuts have left the sector essentially as a-fee-for-service, with students needing to enrol in approved courses to be eligible for the VET Student Loans system.

A decade ago, courses at TAFE institutes constituted 80 per cent of the publicly funded courses undertaken by students, however that number has now drop to below 50 per cent nationally. At a state level, it can be even lower. Meanwhile, university enrolments are higher than ever and still rising, leaving the country with a surfeit of bachelor educated people in an employment landscape that is desperate for tradespeople and vocationally trained workers.  

Further reading:

Skills shortage points towards over-valued university degrees

Should there be greater investment in vocational education?


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