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Outrage as migrant tradies vital to solving Aussie housing crisis sidelined for yoga instructors

Scott Challen is begging the government to allow mirgant tradies into Australia.

Builder Scott Challen said the government needs to prioritise tradies for skilled migrants to help fix the housing supply crisis. (Source: TikTok/Getty)
Builder Scott Challen said the government needs to prioritise tradies for skilled migrants to help fix the housing supply crisis. (Source: TikTok/Getty)

An official government list has revealed who Labor is planning to prioritise for skilled migrants coming into Australia. While there is a desperate need for tradies to fix the housing supply crisis at the moment, several essential trades have been left off the list.

Yoga instructors, martial artists, and dog handlers have been included on Jobs and Skills Australia's draft priority skills list, however, painters, roof tilers, and stonemasons need further consultation before they are included or rejected. Veteran builder Scott Challen told Yahoo Finance this has to be a huge joke.

"What we're seeing right now is pure and utter incompetence," he said.


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Challen pointed to the government's plan to build 1.2 million homes in the next 10 years and asked how that will ever materialise if there aren't enough tradies to see it through.

"The industry is all saying that because there was absolutely nothing in the federal budget, other than lip service towards making it possible," he told Yahoo Finance.

"The 1.2 million will never happen...we're not even close to achieving target."

The government pledged more than $90 million in the 2024 budget to fund an additional 20,000 fee-free TAFE places to boost the chronic shortage of tradies.

But BuildSkills Australia revealed in March that an extra 90,000 construction workers were needed in just a few months to ensure the government's housing target could be met.

BuildSkills head of research, Rob Sobyra, made a submission to the government's draft migrant priority list and similarly asked why tradies were not at the top.

“Does the world really need more yoga instructors at this point in time?” he said.

“I’m not diminishing the importance of that as an occupation, or the validity of it. But from the perspective of our economic priorities in this country, our social and economic priorities, it would seem to us that we should really be prioritising basically any skilled trade.”

The jobs are broken into three categories: "confident" to be on the list, "confident" to not be on the list, and "targeted for consultation". It's open for submissions until May 10.

Challen said one of the biggest challenges with accepting migrant tradies is their overseas qualifications aren't normally recognised in Australia.

He said this is a state-by-state issue but many international workers are forced to retrain when they arrive before they're allowed to get on a construction site.

But even when they are permitted, they're still restricted.

"I've got some Colombian carpenters working for me at the moment, but with their visas, they're only allowed to work 24 hours a week," he explained.

"So even if we bought in the right number of trades... most of those guys who don't have their qualifications recognised here can't be used anyway."

He said employing migrants is one key to helping the construction industry get back on its feet, as he described as "hanging on by its fingernails".

“If we can't employ Australians, you need to let us employ migrants,” he told Yahoo Finance. “You've got to let me put on apprentices that come from other countries.

“It's fine for the universities to fill their slots with $50,000-a-year students but the building industry doesn't get any help whatsoever with regards to that.”

In addition to several trades, chefs, cooks, bakers, managers, IT workers, accountants and hairdressers have also been targeted for consultation.

Some of those will be saved by the government's plan to allow anyone earning over $130,000 a year in, however, those jobs account for thousands of visas every year.

It has sparked concern in the hospitality industry over what will happen if the influx of migrants available to work runs dry.

"We were surprised to see chefs and cooks marked as uncertain," Australian Hotels Association Stephen Ferguson said. "It's a very hot topic for our members … The fact is we have a shortage. There's got to be a recognition of that need."

The list also seems to have drawn strange lines in the sand for some industries.

Cow, sheep, pig and goat farmers could miss out when the list is finalised, however, chicken farmers have made the cut. It's the same in education, with private drama, dance and art teachers expected to be off the list, but private music teachers could be included.

After a record net overseas migration intake of 528,000 in 2022-23, Treasury is forecasting that figure will decline to 395,000 in 2023-24, before tapering off even further to 260,000 in the coming financial year.

The permanent migration program will be capped at 185,000 places in 2024-25, with 132,200 places allocated to the skill stream to “help address Australia’s long-term skill needs”.

An $18.3m investment over the next four years will seek to further reform Australia’s system to “drive greater economic prosperity and restore its integrity”.

- with NCA Newswire

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