ConstructionJuly 2, 2021

Skilled Migration: Temporary Skilled Migration in the Industry

Over the last decade, a sustained shortage of skilled labour has remained a significant constraint on the Australian economy. This has been particularly evident in the infrastructure sector, which has long struggled to fill skill gaps in key trade, technical and professional occupations across civil, commercial, and domestic sectors.

As recently as 2018, the Australian Industry (Ai) Group and the Department of Industry identified the Technician and Trades Workers category as experiencing the greatest skill shortages across the economy. Reflecting this concern, a study by Ai Group revealed that skill shortages presented the second most pressing concern for CEOs in the industry. Moreover, 24 per cent of CEOs expressed skill shortages as their top concern going into 2021, up from just 3 per cent of CEOs in 2016.

Thus far, these skill shortages have been mitigated through skill migration. Notably, reforms that came into effect at the start of 2009 gave priority to migrants with ‘skills in critical need’. These critical skills were centred around engineers and construction trades, as well as medical and IT professionals. Following this, the mining and construction boom at the start of the decade were fuelled by strong growth in the number of temporary skilled visas; 2013 saw 68,486 Temporary Work Visas granted, before dropping to 41,221 in 2019, reflecting the relative weakening demand in the mining and construction sectors.


Overall, research from Sydney University found that prior to COVID-19, more than 2 million temporary migrants in Australia accounted for up to 10 per cent of the workforce in key sectors such as construction.

Therefore, gaps in the workforce – specifically in construction and mining sectors – over the last decade have been filled by temporary migration. Engineering firm AECOM cited the firm’s hires generally constituted 15 per cent international workers a year for major projects; that equated to over 500 international employees for AECOM alone. With COVID-19 border closures dramatically increasing the costs of skilled migration, this dropped to 1 per cent. Similarly, a survey of ARA members was conducted for a joint submission to the Federal Parliament’s inquiry into skill migration. Results reported that 68 per cent of rail businesses relied on skilled overseas workers prior to the pandemic, with over 60 per cent of businesses indicating these workers were critical to the delivery of high-value projects.


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