Shortage of skilled tradies spells trouble for Coffs future

DEMANDING TIMES: Ben Johnston (centre) has taken on apprentices James Carr and Tyson Nelson in preparation for Coffs Harbour's predicted population boom.
DEMANDING TIMES: Ben Johnston (centre) has taken on apprentices James Carr and Tyson Nelson in preparation for Coffs Harbour's predicted population boom. Contributed

COFFS Harbour construction insiders are warning locals that a shortage of skilled people is threatening to derail the construction boom that apparently lies ahead for Coffs Harbour.

Coffs Harbour City Council is predicting a 30% growth in population over the next 20 years.

This means the demand for tradespeople will be more urgent than ever in order to keep up with needs for new housing and infrastructure, according to the construction insiders.

But North Coast TAFE Plumbing head teacher Rob Gilman says that the demand for tradespeople is not being met today, let alone in the future.

"Recent figures from the Department of Employment show the increasing demand for skilled tradespeople across NSW, including the Coffs region, is not being met,” he said.

"Employers are reporting they can't fill their vacancies because applicants have a lack of skills, experience and a variety of trade-qualifications.”

Apprentices and the variety of skills through different qualifications will be crucial for the local construction industry in the coming years, Mr Gilman said.

Ben Johnston, owner of local business Pure Flow Plumbing, says since he started his business eight years ago he's expanded from a one-man van operation to a business of more than 10 staff and eight service vans.

He says he's employed a further two plumbing apprentices and a trainee in preparation for the boom.

"Apprentices have been integral to the growth of my business and will be critical as we service the growth in construction in the Coffs area,” Mr Johnston said.

"Business will only get busier and the only way I can keep up is to employ skilled tradies and train up my apprentices, in fact I plan to take on another apprentice next year.”

North Coast TAFE is encouraging anyone interested in joining forces with local tradies to attend the Glenreagh St campus during the TAFE NSW Open Week, which begins January 16.

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