BIG READ: Tradies hard to nail down for new home surge
BUILDERS are struggling to find enough tradies to keep up with a surge in demand for new housing, fuelled by first home buyers, many of who had previously lived with their parents.
In August last year enquiries began to pick up at Bucasia's Royal Sands Estate - a master-planned estate first launched 15 years ago - after almost no activity for the previous 18 months.
Group marketing manager Ben Peasley said they then put seven packages on the market, and received interest from 12 buyers.
So the company ran another campaign for first home buyers. It has now built four homes, has another 10 under construction and plans to start construction on a new home every two weeks until the end of June.
All these homes have been sold. Yet, after more than a month of searching, Mr Peasley said the company had had no luck finding four more tradesmen to complete a team of five needed to build the homes.
Top of the search list is carpenters, but he's also looking for a painter, concreter and electrician for "ongoing" work.
He described the situation as a 'catch 22', stemming from the reliance of Mackay's construction industry on the mining industry.
While he believed it was the pick-up in the resource sector fuelling demand for more housing, that pick-up was also soaking up the pool of available tradespeople, as they found work at the mines.
"A lot of our tradies are quoting up on a lot of infrastructure jobs out west. It's basically about trying to bring them back to our jobs," Mr Peasley said.
He noted Adani was expected to create 1000 jobs this year as plans for its Carmichael coal mine moved forward, and questioned where they would find that workforce when his company was struggling to find four tradespeople.
But as it was the lack of employment opportunities that prompted many to leave Mackay during the mining sector downturn, a suite of new jobs may also drive them back.
When Mackay hit the worst of the mining industry downturn two years ago, Mr Peasley said, business "stopped almost overnight".
Yet just two months ago the vacancy rates remained high at 7.9%, raising questions about what was fuelling a demand in new housing construction.
Mr Peasley puts it down to the fact Royal Sands Estate offers affordable, new housing that first home buyers can access, allowing it to tap into a specific, local market.
The campaign is offering brand new three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes starting from $295,000 (which the first home owners grant would knock another $20,000 off) ready to move into by April this year.
While city-based young people have been encouraged to look to more affordable properties in regions like Mackay for their first homes, almost all of the Royal Sands enquiries had come from people currently living in the estate, or across the road from it, with their parents, he said.
"Probably from within a 15km radius, that's where we're getting pretty much all of our enquiry from," Mr Peasley said.
"We are getting the occasional person from Mackay CBD who is really keen on our pricing. But most of our enquiries and sales are mostly people who live around our estate."
He said there was a mix between the parents helping children buy homes to get them into the property market, and children buying their own homes.
"They'll be living at home and their mum and dad will be saying 'It's time you buy a property'," he said.
"Some of the kids have been looking to buy and (there's also been) a bit of a push for the parents to hopefully become empty nesters as well."
Mackay Regional Council development services director Gerard Carlyon, who talks to developers every day, said the level of interest in new housing was the strongest it had been in years.
This was driven by an influx of new people coming to town and confidence stemming from the number of major projects due to kick off this year.
These included Ozcare's planned new aged care facility, a multi-million dollar expansion of Caneland Central to facilitate a new cinema and a $20m cancer treatment centre.
"People are seeing we've more than turned the corner and there's a lot of confidence. And when that happens you get all that pent up demand, where people had been holding off buying houses, and (they) take advantage of some great bargains out there," Mr Carlyon said.
He also wasn't surprised much of the interest had come from local, first home buyers as that was a market where growth came naturally within communities. But he said "massive kicks in growth" came when people started moving to town, and that could be fuelled by the suite of projects possibly coming online this year.
CHANGES TO BACK TO WORK PROGRAM COULD HELP TRAIN TRADIES
A STATE Government program will give a business up to $20,000 for employing a 15-year-old retail worker, and Jason Lund has questions about what long-term economic benefit that will lead to.
While the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser believes the Back to Work program is fundamentally a good initiative, he believes greater consultation with industry stakeholders would have led to a more effective program.
The State Government's $100m Back to Work program, designed to generate regional jobs, will give employers up to $20,000 for hiring a job seeker between 15-24 years old.
But rather than certificate three training, Mr Lund believed the focus should be on getting young people into apprenticeships and traineeships, particularly as regions like Mackay suffered a shortage of tradies. He pointed out a 15-year-old could also still be in school.
Employment Minister Grace Grace confirmed the majority of jobs in Mackay-Whitsunday supported by the program were in accommodation, retail and food services.
While the program was supporting 2103 jobs statewide, only 333 were for apprenticeships and traineeships.