Housing and homelessness have taken centre stage in the local, state, and national political conversation, reflecting the growing concern within our communities about the accessibility of safe and affordable housing.
The federal government's response to the long-standing calls for a national housing plan is indeed a step in the right direction.
However, focusing on the bigger picture, it's crucial not to overlook one of the critical issues that underpins it all - the acute shortage of skilled tradespeople in regional NSW.
In regional NSW, the housing stock has failed to keep pace with population growth, leading to a significant housing shortage that has accumulated over several years.
According to the Regional Australia Institute, regional Australia's population has grown by an average of 76,500 people per annum over the last decade but the number of homes approved for construction declined in five out of those 10 years.
Adding to the problem is the shortage of skilled tradespeople in regional NSW.
Smaller communities have been grappling with trade shortages for years and the issue is becoming a vital component of the national homelessness and housing crisis.
Essential maintenance and repairs on existing regional housing stock are left unattended due to the scarcity of tradespeople, making properties unliveable, and ultimately aggravating the housing crisis.
Master Builders Australia estimates that in the next 4-5 years, nearly 477,000 workers, including 200,000 in trades, will need to enter the building and construction industry to meet the forecasted need.
However, with apprenticeship completion rates hovering around 55 per cent, we face the daunting task of having to train as many as 350,000 people just to reach our target.
One of the key issues contributing to this crisis is the need for greater support for apprentices and their supervisors, especially during the formative years of their training.
Apprenticeships are not easy, and providing adequate support is crucial for their success. While there is no silver bullet solution, we must find ways to improve completion rates.
The Australian government's public consultation on the Future Directions for Australian Apprenticeship Support Services highlighted the challenges faced by apprentices from regional, rural, and remote areas.
Geographic barriers, financial constraints, and social costs often make it difficult for them to access and complete off-the-job training components. Addressing these challenges is essential to ensure the success of regional apprentices.
Regrettably, NSW government's initiatives do not seem to be targeted at addressing regional trade shortages. A pilot program aimed at making travel more affordable for regional apprentices has been discontinued, despite its potential to ease one of the burdens identified in the Future Directions for Apprenticeship Support Services hearings.
We must come together to tackle this challenge and pave the way for a brighter future by investing in apprenticeship programs and providing support to those embarking on this journey. It's time for governments, businesses, and communities to collaborate, invest in our workforce, and secure a thriving future for regional NSW.
A sentiment echoed in the just released Jobs and Skills Australia National Report 2023, "A focused and coordinated effort is required to ensure Australians are equipped with the knowledge, skills and capabilities needed for today and tomorrow.".
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