AIRAH has welcomed the immediate support provided for industry in the Federal Budget 2022–23, and says the HVAC&R building services industry stands ready to help develop a clear and sustainable long-term vision for Australia.
A dominant theme in this year’s Budget has been the need for a stronger workforce. The government has announced a raft of skills and education initiatives, including an additional $2.8 billion to support Australian apprenticeships, a 120 per cent tax deduction for small business that invest in training employees, and programs to attract more women to trades and STEM professions.
“The skills shortage is one of the most pressing issues facing our industry,” says AIRAH Chief Executive Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH. “And the problem is multi-faceted.”
He notes that although enrolments in VET courses are on the rise, completion rates are down.
“More than a third of apprentices fail to finish their studies,” says Gleeson. “By providing greater incentives for businesses to take on apprentices – and for the apprentices themselves to stay the course – the government has taken on this challenge.
“We also know that learning does not end when someone finishes their formal qualification. Particularly in the HVAC&R building services industry, rapid advances in technology have made it vital for workers to undertake continuing professional development. The new tax incentives will facilitate this.
“Finally, we know firsthand from our own sector the importance of a more diverse workforce, so AIRAH wholeheartedly supports the initiatives aimed at attracting more women to careers in STEM and trades.”
On top of these programs, Gleeson has applauded the additional funding for mental health.
“This issue affects many people,” he says. “Supporting them will also help retain valuable skills in our industry. All of these measures will help. We look forward to seeing them supported by other programs focused on universities, to ensure we also have the engineers we need to design, install, commission and maintain our buildings.”
Gleeson says the Budget offers some positive signs for those working to make the built environment more sustainable – such as individuals in the HVAC&R industry.
“Almost a quarter of Australia’s electricity is used by cooling and heating,” says Gleeson, “so we have a key role to play in reducing emissions and reaching net zero by 2050. AIRAH strongly supports the government’s commitment to low-emissions technologies, as well as its investment in the circular economy.”
According to Gleeson, it is crucial to get the details right.
“Some of the novel technologies targeted, such as carbon capture, could be considered long bets – potentially significant if they come off, but also loaded with risk. And government’s role is not to gamble. Existing technology such as heat pumps, better insulation, higher-quality building envelopes, as well as improved standards, codes and compliance, are proven and ready to serve us. Let’s put them to use.”
Gleeson has also praised the focus on resilience in the Budget, including a $6 billion investment in disaster recovery, though he says this should be directed at prevention and preparation, as well as recovery. He points out that we are still living through one of the greatest tests of our resilience in more than a century:
the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is pleasing to see the government preparing for future waves of the virus, particularly over the coming winter,” he says. “However, given the lessons we have learnt about airborne transmission, and the role of ventilation in preventing the spread not only of COVID-19, but of other diseases and pathogens, we would like to see a more comprehensive program for improving indoor air quality, as is being rolled out in other developed countries.”
As well as affecting the health and wellbeing of Australians, the pandemic has caused major upheavals to supply chains, putting additional stress on the building and construction industry. Gleeson says this is another area that has received much-needed attention in the Budget.
“We are heartened to see the government recognising supply chain issues, and developing programs to build manufacturing capacity within Australia. Although not directly related, the reduction in the fuel excise will also help in the short term. The bigger challenge, here and in other areas, will come in the years ahead.
“We look forward to seeing these programs take the next step and being fully developed – and we look forward to playing our part in shaping them.”