A decade in review: The state of the industry

Building blueprint
In 2010, Victoria’s population was 5.4 million and the construction industry contributed $36 billion to the State’s GDP, fuelled by the work of 44,158 registered building and plumbing professionals.

External wall cladding was a new material – popular with designers for its light weight, ease of use and aesthetic qualities. While the product was viewed as energy efficient, there were issues with compliance and combustibility, and over time, the material would find its way onto thousands of high-rise buildings during Victoria’s construction boom.

Today, Victoria’s population is 6.6 million and forecast to grow by 1.45 million by 2030.

About eight per cent of Victorians now live in apartments, with the sector accounting for around $4.5 billion of building work in 2018–19.

At the time of the last national census in 2016, around 450,000 Victorians lived in flats or apartments. Given current construction trends, this number could double by 2030.

Still, the construction of individual houses continues to dominate, with the construction of detached and semi-detached houses accounting for almost $16.5 billion worth of Victoria’s total construction work.

But despite its economic benefits, the recent building boom has left behind a litany of problems, many of them hidden under the surface.

Across Australia, a person’s home is regarded as their most valuable asset, so it is vital we support and invest in a building industry capable of sustaining the social and economic health and wellbeing of our community.

Although Victoria has – so far – avoided falling foul of the devastating structural defects seen in Sydney’s Mascot and Opal towers, inadequate fire safety protection, water penetration and combustible cladding are just some of the unwelcome but common defects that home and apartment owners live with every day.

The result is a real and tangible loss of confidence in our industry and the regulator.

Today, the reputation of the building industry in Australia and beyond is arguably at an all-time low. Inherent faults in industry practice have permeated and multiplied over time, putting lives at risk and devaluing buildings by many millions of dollars.

At the end of the 2018–19 financial year, there were 23,890 building industry professionals and 27,496 plumbers accredited in Victoria.

Registration numbers in the building sector have remained largely unchanged since the start of the decade, while the number of registered or licensed plumbers has increased by almost 23 per cent.

We believe the forthcoming registration of building trades – starting with carpentry in mid-2021 – will likely see overall accreditation numbers grow significantly.

But while the base number of accredited industry professionals demonstrates a certain level of resilience in the industry, we believe the industry remains tenuous, given the evidence that fewer young people are choosing to learn a trade.

Universities and TAFEs – key destinations for school leavers – have a major role to play in inspiring and supporting would-be builders and plumbers to realise their dreams.

The VBA also encourages industry to positively promote training pathways and encourage potential course applicants to apply.

Professional development will be a major focus of the VBA in early 2020. Ahead of mandatory continuing professional development coming into effect, the VBA will partner with industry associations to roll out targeted training aimed at addressing gaps in the quality and scrutiny of performance solutions and general NCC requirements for surveyors, fire engineers and builders. Successful completion of training may become a precondition of registration renewal.

The Commissioner for Better Regulation’s Planning and Building Approvals Process Review has made several commendable recommendations to address the industry skills shortage, including establishing new bridging pathways for practitioners from related professions.

The VBA strongly supports this proposal, noting that legislative change may be required to implement it. We also welcome the Building Act review and support the positive pressure the Commission for Better Regulation is applying to the system to promote the sustainability of the sector with good quality outcomes.