Builders warn of a long wait as labor shortages and supply chain disruptions plague the industry

Jackie Poole has slowly begun renovating the Central Queensland home she shares with her husband and two sons.

She says since the family bought the Rockhampton home in 2015, they’ve turned it into their “dream home” – almost.

‘We are hoping to get the kitchen refurbished which would involve extending out onto the terrace and knocking down a few walls,’ Ms Poole said.

“We are also considering changing the roof and floor a bit.”

But she says the family wants nothing more than a swimming pool.

She says it would be ideal for her four and six-year-old sons as the hot Rockhampton summer approaches.

“It’s perfect timing,” she said.

“The boys have both just learned to swim and it’s going to get hot.”

The family was so excited to build one that they had the hole dug for the pool during previous renovations in 2018.

The family dug a hole for the pool four years ago.(ABC Capricorn: Pat Heagney)

But Ms Poole says her plans have since been derailed.

She says she struggled to find a builder to complete one of her renovations until mid-2024.

“I was shocked,” she said.

“I had spoken to a builder before and knew there was a bit of a wait, but I didn’t think it was that long.”

A woman stands in front of a heavy wooden door.
Jackie Poole says she’s hoping for a few more renovations to make her home her “dream home”.(ABC Capricorn: Pat Heagney)

Labor shortages and price hikes are hampering the industry

Mitch McDouall runs Acute Builders in central Queensland serving an area from Monto to St Lawrence and west to Alpha.

He says he is far from short of work.

“We are complete for at least two years,” he said.

“The other day we booked a job with a former client for 2024 and it’s probably a four month project, so yeah it will take us into 2025.”

Mr. McDouall says he and many other builders are working through a backlog.

“It seems like a weekly occurrence now that we’re saying no to jobs,” he says.

“It’s definitely a tough conversation to have.

“But physically we can’t do more work than we currently are.”

A man with a mustache leans against a trailer.
Local builder Mitch McDouall is sold out for the next two years.(ABC Capricorn: Pat Heagney)

He says a labor shortage is hampering the industry’s ability to meet demand.

“Traders and apprentices, they’re both pretty hard to find,” he says.

“It’s also difficult because a few more guys won’t really make a difference; you need more supervisors as well as more tradesmen.”

McDouall says labor shortages combined with rising costs are making it a tough market for consumers.

“There have been a lot of people who are quite shocked by the amount of price increases, myself included,” he says.

“Obviously, the longer people wait for us to renovate, the more the prices go up.

“So we try to get through it quickly and efficiently, so the better it is for them in terms of money.”

A man uses a hammer to pull a nail out of a house stump.
Local builder Mitch McDouall says rising costs and labor shortages are making it harder for customers.(ABC Capricorn: Pat Heagney)

Unique moment for builders

According to Master Builders regional manager Dean Phillips, although consumers are paying more, builders are actually worse off.

“The perception is that because it’s more expensive to build, builders make more money – but it’s the opposite,” he says.

Mr Phillips says a labor shortage and supply chain issues are contributing to construction delays in the industry.

“The material and supply chain shortages we saw as a result of COVID have not gone away,” he says.

“And there just hasn’t been commercial availability to get jobs as quickly as we would like.

“There is a skills shortage in general and a significant labor shortage.”

A backyard with swings and a large tree in the corner.
Ms Poole says she will have to ‘keep dreaming for a while’ before her renovations can be completed.(ABC Capricorn: Pat Heagney)

But despite the challenges, Mr Phillips says it’s a unique time to be a builder in the industry.

“They’re kind of in the box seat, the trades have all the power when it comes to negotiations,” he says.

“They are finally being paid as they deserve.

“If builders can collaborate and work together a little more, that will definitely contribute to a stronger industry.”

Ms Poole says it’s not an ideal situation, but they’re happy to wait for the job to be done right.

“It certainly comes down to everything that goes on behind the scenes that we can’t really have control over,” she says.

“I have no choice but to keep dreaming for a while.

“The hole [for the pool] sort of filled up with water, so I guess we could probably swim if we were desperate.”

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