Construction work in Australia is expected to continue during the pandemic. However there are strong indicators that significant numbers of workers have been adversely impacted. A recent report by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) identified the construction industry as the second largest industry group to register for the JobKeeper allowance, with more than 100,000 applicants. A crude calculation based on this figure suggests that up to one in three construction businesses may have experienced a downturn of at least 30 per cent.
Reduced industry demand for current and new workers is likely to be temporary, with supply chains and demand expected to return, although the duration of the pandemic and its long term impacts are difficult to predict.
Skilling and Reskilling Australia
The federal government has said that a ‘new economy’ is expected to emerge from the pandemic. In anticipation of this, the government’s response has included support for online approaches to training. Minister for Education Dan Tehan has said the response is “unashamedly focused” on domestic students.
On 12th April 2020, Ministers Tehan and Cash announced a range of training and education responses. The Higher Education sector’s development of new six-month micro-credentials, to be completed by students between May and December 2020, has received the headline attention. Support for the VET sector includes the following support for RTOs and students:
- Regulatory fee relief for RTOs – ASQA fees refunded or waived
- VET Student Loan fees six-month exemption to support full-fee paying students to continue studying
Minister Cash also said the government has been working with registered training organisations and that there are 2000 vocational education and training courses available online, and that these can be identified on the MySkills website. There are 32 construction industry courses listed on MySkills.gov.au with online delivery options. The specific nature and extent of online delivery is not yet detailed on the MySkills website.
State and Territory Support for Construction Industry
States and territories have also developed their own specific support for VET-based training during the pandemic, ranging from a shift to online or blended delivery through to free micro-credentials and skill sets to options to upskill retrenched workers, through to continuing to offer free qualifications in the construction industry. These tangible support and training offerings vary considerably between jurisdictions, and are detailed in the summary below. This list was accurate at the date of writing, but it is important to note that new developments are moving swiftly, with many of the responses listed here having emerged within the last week.
There are new and existing training incentives to attract people to the construction industry, with some states offering free micro-credentials, and skill sets which will allow retrenched and stood down workers to upskill in areas that would value-add to their current work. These vary by state and territory, with areas including digital literacy, digital data essentials, business skills, mental health peer skills, and mentoring and supervision.
Implications for the Construction Industry
The Construction Industry is expected to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, particularly its workforce. However, this is also an opportunity for its workforce to develop new skills in digital literacy and data, mental health peer skills, and business and customer service. These skills are often mentioned by industry stakeholders as requiring further development to take the industry from 3.0 to 4.0.
The federal, state and territory government responses are to be commended. To better meet the needs of industry, further work is needed to:
- ensure consistency of micro-credential and skill set availability across the commonwealth. These opportunities need to be equally available and accessible.
- The limitations of exclusive online delivery for meeting licensing and evidence requirements needs acknowledgement. Blended delivery options need further exploration in order to meet trade requirements.
- The benefits of upskilling options need to be further promoted to constructions workers who have been retrenched or stood down.
- Further work is needed to understand how jurisdictions are supporting apprentices and trainees who may be unable to meet requirements.
Summary of Australian government VET training and education support during COVID-19 pandemic, at 20 April 2020.
|Commonwealth||DESE||- ASQA fees refunded or waived|
- VET student loans six-month exemption
- Micro-credentials online – priority area study to be completed May to Dec 2020
|Queensland||TAFE Queensland’s IsoLearn||Free micro-credentials and skill sets, delivered online, to Queensland residents. |
- Digital Literacy Essentials (MCC00013)
- Cyber Security Essentials (MCC00014)
- Communication Technologies for Business Success (MCC00015)
- Digital Data Essentials (MCC00016)
- Data Security Essentials (MCC00017)
- Data Analysis Essentials (MCC00018)
Four of the nine free skill sets are potentially relevant to workers in CPC industry:
- Mental Health Peer Work Skill Set (CHCSS00103)
- Basic Customer Engagement Skill Set (BSBSS00034)
- Mentoring and Supervision (SITSS00039)
- Transport (Driver) Skill Set (SSTLI0021)
|Victoria||Free TAFE to continue, with additional funding||There are six CPC courses on Victoria’ Free TAFE course list: |
- Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building)
- Diploma of Building and Construction (Building)
- Advanced Diploma of Building Surveying
- Certificate III in Concreting
- Certificate III in Construction Waterproofing
- Certificate IV in Plumbing and Service
|NSW||Free TAFE in pandemic||21 fee-free, accredited short courses offered by TAFE NSW (maximum 2 per person), however only five of these short courses are currently available. These are: |
- Develop Administration Skills
- Enhance Your Digital Impact
- Grow Health and Medical Knowledge
- Improve Leadership Performance
- Practical Business Skills
|South Australia||TAFE SA||TAFE SA has extended its mid-semester break (previously 9 to 27 April 2020) to start 30 March 2020. Courses will resume on 27 April 2020. All TAFE SA and training organisations are encouraged to increase their ability to deliver training remotely or online where possible.|
|Tasmania||Skills Tasmania’s Rapid Response Skills Initiative (RRSI)||$3000 to pay for training, including licences, for people who have lost their jobs (through redundancy, workplace closure, being let go by employer).|
*updated on 27/4/2020
|Government of WA and Construction Training Fund (CTF)||$24.5 million support package for the construction workforce, including:|
- $2,000 payment to employers to maintain existing apprentices and trainees
- $9.5 million in new monthly payment program to employers of apprentices and trainees
- $5 million to support more than 5,000 building and construction apprentices and trainees to complete short training courses
- Apprentices and trainees employed in the industry can claim up to $1,000 to support the costs of undertaking short courses to assist them in upskilling
|Northern Territory||NT government||Northern Territory Recovery package to provide business support the independent tertiary education sector.|
|Australian Capital Territory||Skills Canberra||Economic survival package includes support for apprentices, trainees and other vocational education and training (VET) learners to access nationally recognised training in skills needs areas across a range of industries. These measures include extending enrolments and providing funding to RTOs.|
 Based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics figure cited on MySkills.gov.au that there are 358,449 businesses trading in the sector, accessed 20/04/2020 at https://www.skills.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/228296/TasGov_COVID19_Factsheet_Rapid_Response_Skills_Initiative.pdf
 Eligibility criteria applies, must be a job seeker or worker impacted by COVID-19.