Working in the construction industry has many advantages in Australia. Firstly, you can find work both in the city and in the countryside. Secondly, the construction sector includes many different jobs (masons, electricians, carpenters, etc.). Thirdly, these jobs are usually well paid (way above the minimum wage for backpackers). In addition, depending on the region, the work might count towards the Second Year visa. It’s also relatively easy to find a job because the demand for labour is high. Here are a few tips for finding a job in the construction industry.
What are the requirements for working on a construction site?
If you’re not a native speaker, your English skills must be good enough to understand your supervisor’s instructions. Indeed, working in construction can be dangerous, it is therefore necessary to be able to understand the safety rules and the instructions of your employers. In addition, you will have to get the White Card, a special training to work in construction. Thus, you will need to be able to understand the questions and answer them to pass the test.
The White card
What is the White Card?
Construction jobs are regulated in Australia. The White Card ensures that all construction workers are familiar with safety equipment as well as health and security policies. This is THE essential card for working in construction in Australia. Indeed, the White Card is compulsory to work in the building sector. It concerns all staff (supervisors, employees, etc.) who work on a site. The White Card certifies that you have followed a training and that you know and apply the safety rules on construction sites. It is recognised throughout Australia.
How to get the White Card?
To get your White Card, you have to complete a course either online or in the classroom. This can take several hours. If you choose to do the course in class, you will need a full day. The course costs between $40 and $100 depending on the states. There is no exam as such, you will need to answer questions. If you do it online, you will have to take a short video interview and show that you have all the necessary equipment to work on a site (Personal Protective Equipment).
Once obtained, the White Card is recognized in all Australian states and territories and has no validity period. That said, if you do not work in the construction sector for 2 years, you will need to take a course to refresh your knowledge.
Note that to obtain the White card, you will need to create a USI (Unique Student Identifier) because it is an Australian diploma. The process is free and will take you little time (5-10 minutes). All you have to do is go to the specialized USI site of the Australian government. Important detail: you must be on Australian territory to make your application because you will be asked for a visa number in addition to your identity document.
As this course is officially recognised as an Australian short course, you need a Unique Student Identifier (USI), which you create online. It is free to get a USI number, and only takes a few minutes. To create your USI, you need to visit the Australian government site. You need a valid Australian visa as your passport number is linked to the USI. You will be able to obtain this number once you have entered Australia.
More information: White Card in Australia – Online Course
Get discounts for your White Card course
Take advantage of special offers to obtain the white card and work in the construction industry.
In terms of equipment, the term “PPE” is used for “personal protective equipment“. You have to invest in a warning jacket, safety boots and a helmet. Depending on the construction site and the environment, you might also need goggles and hearing protection. These 5 equipments will be required to pass the White Card online. The White Card requires that you got your own protective equipment.
You can buy the equipment at Bunnings, Kmart or even used in op-shops or on marketplace or Facebook groups.
You should know that there is not just one card. Indeed, some trades will require other cards, licenses or even permits… Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of some examples of trades and their prerequisites.
Driving a forklift.
There are two types of forklift so two types of license: class LO and class LF.
Period of validity: 5 years
Cost: between $500 and $600.
Erection and dismantling of scaffolding for construction work.
There are three classes of scaffolding permits: basic, intermediate and advanced.
Traffic Controller license
Ensures traffic of cars (and pedestrians) manually during roadworks, on construction sites, etc.
At least these two skills are required in all Australian states: Control traffic with stop-slow bat (RIIWHS205E) and Implement traffic management plans (RIIWHS302E).
Period of validity: 3 years
Cost: between $200 and $500.
Materials platform hoist
Operate a construction hoist to allow materials or goods to be lifted.
There are three types of lifting devices that require a license.
Period of validity: 1 year.
What kind of work is needed in the construction sector and what are the salaries?
No matter what job you will be doing in construction, a minimum wage is applicable. Indeed, in Australia, most employees are covered by a modern award. These contain the minimum wage, as well as other terms and conditions, for employees in particular industries and occupations. For construction jobs, the Building and construction General On site Award (MA 000020) applies. When you are hired, remember to ask your employer under what status you are employed. You can be hired on a casual, daily or weekly hire basis.
Your wage will be different depending on your status. For example, casual employees will be paid a casual loading (a higher pay rate for being a casual employee). This is because casuals don’t get paid days off, notice of termination or redundancy pay. To give you an idea of the differences in hourly rates, during the week, the minimum wage (level 1 – without experience in the field), in casual you will get the minimum wage + 25% per hour compared to a person hired weekly ($20.85).
If you are after making good money, you may want to consider working at night or on weekends, as hourly wages are much higher then (50% more sometimes). Note that if you have a specific skill or training in construction, you will probably depend on another award, with different hourly rates (eg plumber, electrician).
To calculate your minimum wage, you can use this tool from FairWork.
What type of jobs can you do in construction?
Here is a list of construction jobs you can do without experience or qualifications in Australia:
Labourer (unskilled labour)
Your role is to be available to perform various manual tasks on site. You have to make sure that all craftsmen have got what they need on site. For example, you carry cement bags, bricks, wooden boards, or tools or you fill and carry buckets with water. You will probably also use a few tools such as the jackhammer and do simple tasks, such as isolating. The advantage is that you can make contacts with everyone involved. The disadvantage is that it is a physical work. The wages can be between 25 and 45 AUD per hour, depending on your experience and the level of difficulty of the job (allow $25 to $30 at the start and without experience).
This includes picking up garbage, sweeping, cleaning the construction site and packing hazardous waste and garbage in bags. The Cleaner is responsible for preventing the build-up of dust harmful to lungs on the job site, thus ensuring good working conditions. The advantage is that the physical work is less hard. The disadvantage, however, is that you must always wear a mask to prevent the inhalation of dust. The pay is the same as a labourer’s. At very small construction sites, you can do both jobs at once.
The traffic controller sways traffic signs, directs the traffic, and accompanies visitors or passers-by through the construction site. It also it ensures the safety of pedestrians. This is a position that requires a traffic control license. This construction job employs most women because no physical strength is needed and you also get paid well. In addition, companies that want to increase the proportion of women in their workforce prefer women for this position. The advantage is that you don’t have to do any physical work. The disadvantage is that you get bored very quickly and you have to stand around all day, mostly in the sun. Traffic controller are paid better than other unskilled backpackers in the construction industry: between AUD 31 (without experience) and 45 per hour (for experienced workers).
Jobs for skilled tradesmen
Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, pavers or other skilled craftsmen usually have high salaries. Contact the company directly, tell them about your qualifications and experience and ask for at least AUD 30-35 per hour.
How to find a job in the construction industry?
ALL backpackers love Gumtree. Post a local ad in the “Jobs” category and indicate that you are looking for a construction job. Mention all your strengths (good English skills, good fitness, white card, previous experiences, etc.). Your experience in the construction industry should be in the title of the ad. Then check every day if any new job offers have come up.
Work agencies also regularly offer jobs in the construction industry. The registration process is usually free and fast, either online or in person. For that, you need your passport, your TFN and the White Card. Some jobs require experience, others specialise in inexperienced workers.
Some agencies are present all over the country (Hays for example). You can also try with Labor Solutions Australia or Skill Hire and FT Workforce (agencies in Sydney and Melbourne).
Word of mouth is still the best method. Ask everyone you know in Australia if they have any contacts in construction. Don’t hesitate to talk to the people in your hostel who work in the construction industry. And, as some Australians tend to say, “the best way to find a job is to go to the pub”.
Working hostels can also be an asset in finding work: they act as both hostels and temp agencies, but beware of false promises and exorbitant prices.
Social networks like Facebook can be a great option to find a job. Join groups such as “Backpackers in Sydney”, “Australia backpackers jobs”, “construction jobs in Australia”. There are constantly new job offers. But you have to be quick and check the groups every day to see if something new has popped up. Positions are quickly filled.
The Australian fiscal year starts on 1 July. Shortly afterwards, it is easier to find a job. Companies that have frozen their business for any reasons at the end of the fiscal year will usually resume their business..
Renew your WHV
If you are on a WHV, work in the construction industry can be counted towards the renewal of your WHV (2nd and 3rd year). Not all construction jobs are eligible. Here is the list of sectors eligible to renew your visa (taken from the immigration website)
- residential building construction
- non-residential building construction
- heavy and civil engineering construction
- land development and site preparation services
- building structure services
- building installation services
- building completion services
- other construction services
Examples of eligible specified work in construction:
- landscaping the grounds of a construction/house site
- painting the interior/exterior of new buildings
- erecting fences on a construction site
Examples of ineligible specified work in construction:
- ship/boat building
- manufacturing materials used on a construction site (such as concrete or steel)
The Australian New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) provides further detail about eligible work in construction. Work undertaken in the construction sector must appear in the ANZSIC division for these sectors to meet the specified work requirement.
To count your days, make sure the zip code where you work is eligible. In general, this concerns areas outside major cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and their suburbs)
Reviews from other backpackers
Daniel, 23, Sommerset, worker / cleaner
“I was curious about the world of construction. There were a few people at the hostel working in the construction industry in Australia, and they really enjoyed it. When they mentioned that they were looking for someone on the site, I didn’t hesitate for a moment, so I invested $100 in the White Card and the protection boots. Everything else I got from people at the hostel and I was ready to go.
It was a very small building with a good atmosphere in which everyone worked hard. At noon, we had an hour lunch break and the rest of the day was physical work. I got $28 an hour without any previous experience. During this time I learned a lot, especially how to use different tools. I became more skilled and stronger.”
Jaime, 20 years, Barcelona, traffic controller
“I chose the construction industry because I didn’t have much money and I heard that you could earn a lot as a traffic controller. So I got the White Card, Yellow Card, and Blue Card, which cost me almost $500. I got $30 an hour and $40 an hour for night shifts. It’s an experience that taught me to be persevering and to be able to do nothing all day long. Working in traffic control, I was standing around for more than 10 hours a day, sometimes doing next to nothing. “