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Aussie tradie's grim choice as costs rise and jobs dry up: 'Massive ramifications'

“I don’t want to just be keeping afloat and paying the bills."

An Aussie tradie and father has considered moving his family more than 900 kilometres to make ends meet as the cost of living and lack of work makes staying in Sydney impossible.

Brickie Ross Pirillo has been in the trade game for more than 30 years but said he was struggling to continue to operate in Sydney because of the soaring cost of materials and jobs becoming less reliable.

“My job pipeline has been up and down over the past year and there hasn't been a lot of certainty around having enough work on the horizon,” he told Yahoo Finance.

Do you have a story to tell? Contact belinda.grantgeary@yahooinc.com

Tradie working on bricklaying job inset with a picture of him in a high-vis shirt.
Tradie Ross Pirillo is struggling to keep his business running in Sydney as the cost of living continues to rise and his jobs become less frequent. (Credit: Yahoo Australia)

The father lives with his wife and two step-children in Sydney’s south-west. His children also live in the city but he’s been considering relocating to Brisbane.

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“I will be forced to leave Sydney with my family if things don’t improve, cost-wise, here. Cost of living is cheaper in Queensland, there’s more work options as a tradie,” he said.

Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia to live in, according to Finder’s cost of living comparison, and relocating to Brisbane would cut housing and utilities costs by 25 per cent.

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Job opportunities are also improving in the Queensland capital as it gears up to host the 2032 Olympic Games. But the personal sacrifice would be huge.

“There would be massive ramifications … I’d have to pull my kids out of their school, leave our friends and extended family behind. Essentially, leave our whole lives behind," Ross said.

But, since the pandemic, financial pressures have grown, both at work and at home.

“Cost of materials and labour is a big one. Other than that, cost of living in general is really high, as we all know,” he said.

“I don’t want to just be keeping afloat and paying the bills. I want to grow my businesses and unlock more options.”

The brickie is not alone. Recent research from online tradie marketplace hipages showed 74 per cent of tradies were concerned about their job pipeline as the cost of living impacted homeowners’ ability to fork out on home improvement.

“Consumer confidence has dipped again after a slight lift over the last couple of weeks, and so homeowners are tightening their hip pockets as the cost of living hits. This has had a direct impact on tradie demand,” hipages CEO Roby Sharon-Zipser told Yahoo Finance.

A staggering 40 per cent of tradies said they feared they’d go out of business if they didn’t increase prices. And while it’s a 23 per cent improvement from March, when the industry was still recovering from the pandemic, it still represents a large chunk of the industry.

The trickle-down effect of the high cost of materials and labor makes its way to Ross’s clients but it’s a double-edged sword - if you’re not offering competitive prices, you can be undercut to get the work.

“When us tradies need to pay so much for materials, it means we need to put our prices up for homeowners and they think we have overpriced the job, but we’re actually giving them the cheapest price we can that keeps our business afloat,” he said.

“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to actually do the job, because you’re not really breaking even or you could be losing money, depending on where the jobs are located.”

Ross has even branched out to start men’s underwear business ManUp Down Under on the side to try to get another source of income.

“If my underwear brand picks up, then we should be OK, but being a tradie is really tough at the moment,” he said.

“My wife also has her own business, which is helpful, but I don’t think I’d be able to live comfortably with just my bricklaying jobs.”

According to the hipages research, more than half of business owners would pack up and move for work, with those living in NSW the most likely at 65 per cent.

But starting all over is a daunting task. The prospect of building a new client base and finding reliable suppliers is a big barrier.

Tips for tradies to revive business pipeline

Tradies are being urged to “try to adapt to the new market conditions” as Aussies reduce their spend on home improvement.

Here are Sharon-Zipser’s tips to bring in bigger bucks:

  • Increase your job radius: Many tradies tend to work within specific locations, like Sydney’s inner west or Melbourne’s northern suburbs. However, broadening your service areas could help you access untapped resources for work and jobs.

  • Cut back on costs: This could be holding back on getting a new work ute or upgrading equipment where possible. However, it can mean spending more on maintenance. Shopping around for new suppliers is also an “effective tactic”.

  • Ask for references: References are incredibly important when it comes to sourcing work because these are often a determining factor in being selected for a job.

  • Relocate to greener pastures: Moving should be a “last resort”. You'd need to find new clients, employees and suppliers. If you do decide to make a move, be sure to research a potential new area extensively to determine how much work and how many competitors are there.

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