25/06/2021 - 12:00

Tapping into the indigenous workforce

25/06/2021 - 12:00

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Nyoongar traditional owner Gerard Matera says labour shortages prompted by a surge in building activity has put a spotlight on the training and development of an indigenous workforce.

Gerard Matera says boosting training of indigenous workers will have long-term benefits. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Nyoongar traditional owner Gerard Matera says labour shortages prompted by a surge in building activity has put a spotlight on the training and development of an indigenous workforce.

Mr Matera, who is also the director of indigenous construction company Marawar, said while government agencies had put measures in place to meet indigenous procurement targets, there was untapped opportunity in the private sector.

In the past 12 months increased building activity had triggered an industry-wide shortage of skilled workers in the building and construction sector, he said.

Mr Matera said that had been exacerbated by border closures and had resulted in a pressure-cooker situation for frontline construction industries.

Adding to that challenge was low-levels of trainees and apprenticeships in the sector across the board.

While apprentice commencements in construction were up 5.6 per cent at June 30 2020, when compared to the previous financial year, the bulk of trainees were destined for the civil works sector, according to data from the Construction Training Fund.

There’s no disputing that labour demand is at an all-time high across the building and construction sector and we all want positive outcomes for the Indigenous community,” Mr Matera said.

“My passion is in making sure Marawar has a steady flow of qualified and experienced staff to deliver a high standard job and, believe me, there is no shortage of eager Indigenous young people wanting to put in the hard yards to learn a trade.

“However, if we are to make greater industry impact, we cannot rely on government-funded projects alone.”

Marawar has been engaged on several large government building projects and recently completed the $1.3 million North Woodvale Public School Administration.

“The company’s unique Indigenous proposition and engagement program aims to ‘buck the trend’ and shift negative perceptions of Aboriginal people working in construction industry," Mr Matera said.

"When we started there were fewer than 90 of the 33,000 apprentices in WA training for building trades in Perth and the South West (Nyoongar country), and this is not good enough.

“No construction company is immune from the current industry pressures, which makes ours an important mission that will provide long-term benefits to the industry and community at large.”

Read more about the sector in Business News’ annual construction and building feature in the July 28 edition of our magazine.

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