Construction strife builds
TOWNSVILLE’S bottlenecked building industry might be in the midst of “dangerous” labour shortages, but a local industry leader is adamant the sector will come out on top, and won’t give up without a fight.
Between increasing costs of materials such as steel, timber, glass and aluminium, a shortage of frontline tradespeople, and a record number of build approvals, Townsville’s housing industry faces a steep uphill climb.
New Home Solutions managing director Darryl Gilchrist said while the industry had always been “boom and bust”, right now local builders were in survival mode. “The industry just has to survive this 12-month period to cost stabilise,” Mr Gilchrist said.
The battle comes off the back of the Covid-19 pandemic and an increase in housing build approvals.
The Townsville Bulletin previously reported building approvals for single detached dwellings in North Queensland were up 162 per cent in February 2020, when compared with the previous 12 months.
Mr Gilchrist did not downplay the severity of the situation many local builders were facing, but acknowledged supply and demand of both materials and labour ruled the industry. In November 2020, Townsville City
Council approved the construction of a record 98 new homes – 70 more than the same month in 2019.
Mr Gilchrist said the increased workload combined with other factors such as labour shortages put builders in a precarious position. It meant cost escalations throughout the building period increased, because supplies and labour could not be sourced.
“There’s more waiting periods, and the longer the wait period, the higher the costs go up – it’s an escalating process,” he said. “We are in survival mode, where you just have to pay your bills and hope next year there might be more returns on your work – but right now it’s about covering costs.”
With some trades experiencing “chronic shortages”, Mr Gilchrist said the next nine to 12 months would be telling in whether the industry saw some relief in the form of an increase in tradespeople and a “slightly decreased” number of active projects.
He said trades such as blocklayers, roofers and concreters were experiencing the worst of the shortages and encouraged local builders to carefully monitor their overheads.
“It’s a very dangerous part of the market at the moment, and there would be builders out there who are very much struggling to carry the workload and cover costs,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Mr Gilchrist said the industry was responding. “We aren’t going to give up and we have to work through it.”
“Most of the time we are fine but sometimes you get a peak.”
As for what the increased workload meant for Townsville’s home builders and tradespeople, Mr Gilchrist said there was a silver lining.
“If anyone is going to get an apprenticeship they should get it now in the next six to 12 months in the housing industry,” he said.
“Townsville has a good future ahead, the building industry is just one component of the town, combined with a growing economy and population growth and employment.”