Australia Stuck Amid Trades Apprentice Drought - Where Did We Go So Wrong?

Bricklayer

Lack of parental support, limited incentives for employers, high TAFE fees and a non-serious attitude on the t of apprentices, all widening the skills chasm.

Aussie Tradies missed out on nearly $5 million in job revenue last year as a shortage of skilled trade workers reached peak levels. While Tradies continue to act as the backbone of our economy, Australia is on the verge of an apprentice drought, and we think it’s about time we not only put some measures in place but also revisited our opinions as a society and watch closely where is it that we are lacking.

Changing perceptions

From gender stereotyping to peer pressure, lack of family support and a negative industry view, the younger lot still finds a college degree much more attractive and promising as compared to joining a Trades School.

Apprentice Emma Harwood working at Mercedes Benz – Photo Credit: Apprenticeship Matters
Apprentice Emma Harwood working at Mercedes Benz – Photo Credit: Apprenticeships Matter

“Even though apprenticeship and trainee pathways are an ideal avenue to a long term career, social inclusion and financial prosperity, it is still seen by some as a poorer cousin to higher education, which often doesn’t provide a job outcome at the end of their course,” says Michael Jansen, General Manager of Apprenticeships Matter.

Jansen however notes that this perception couldn’t be farther from truth. “Statistics show that Vocational Education and Training (VET) outcomes have an equal financial end point compared to those entering the workforce having completed a tertiary qualification. According to reports by Skilling Australia, the median full-time income for a VET graduate is $56,000, whereas the median graduate salary for students completing a Bachelor’s degree is $54,000.”

One of the leading reasons behind younger people not choosing Trades as a career path has been a lack of information to make a measured choice about their future, notes Jansen. Luckily, that has been changing with organisations like Apprenticeships Matter providing as much support as possible through conducting school presentations, sharing success stories and hosting public information sessions.

But it’s not just about choosing Trades as a career. Unfortunately the apprentices that have joined, don’t take it to the end.

Placing more incentives for employers

Is there a lack of incentives in place to encourage apprentices and trainees to finish what they started?

Mel Moore, Director at GEM Generation Electrical Maintenance doesn’t think so.

Mel Moore
Photo Credit: Mel Moore owner GEM Generation Electrical Maintenance

“I don’t think we need to offer any more of an incentive than it already is, you’re being paid to learn what you want to learn! Come out at the end with a trade that you can do so much with, go on to further studies, climb the ladder and become a supervisor, leading hand, start a business,” says Mel.

The sparky believes that may be the problem lies in not setting the expectations right from the beginning.

“If they had known what to anticipate or had an insight into what to expect then perhaps more people that thought a trade was right for them may have had a different realisation and those that had never considered it would be excelling at school and making the most of their apprenticeship and the opportunity that has been handed to them.”

If there should be any incentives, it should be for the employers who are willing to hire them despite so much effort they need to put into training them.

Government needs to support employers in the industry much better, especially in the construction business. Better payment guarantees for work completed and higher support to encourage recommencement, employment of mature age apprentices and those with disabilities.

The Role of Parents, Schools and Government

Government, Trade schools and parents have a big role to play to fill the widening skills chasm Australia is facing today. Having counselors on the campus is one way of doing it, but it needs to go beyond that.

Ian Hillen from GTK Construction Training, who ran a bricklaying business and had about 15 apprentices, before running the RTO feels that schools need to play a bigger role in helping kids determine the right career path.

Making concrete
Photo Credit: Ian Hillen from GTK Construction Training

“Smart & Skilled funding limitations make it very hard for students to access vocational training when they are not succeeding in the classroom. Students that are not doing well at school should have more support to explore more appropriate options for them much earlier,” says Ian.

“It seems that the government is much more focused on keeping students in school even if it is not the best option for them. Some schools seem reluctant to allow students to leave school and go into vocational training as it impacts the school’s funding.”

Additionally, Ian notes that the government should make Certificate II and Certificate III courses more affordable.

“Vocational education is a great option for someone to start a career in the construction industry and there are so many options to advance if that is what someone wants to do,”

But work ethic and commitment to learn is something the parents need to instill in their children.

“Parents and schools need to encourage the young lot to continue with the trade, not give up if they just don’t like it. Give it a really good go, you can make some great money if you are willing to learn and absorb the skills, suggests Aaron Roche, owner of Floor Innovations Pty Ltd.

“Governments need to fund better training. We now send our apprentices to TAFE 2 hours away because the local TAFE did not train them and they were not progressing,” Aaron adds.

Floor Innovation
Photo Credit: Aaron Roche owner Floor Innovations Pty Ltd

More seriousness on the part of apprentices

The problem seems to be generational as well!

Employers have time and again protested that the apprentices who come looking for jobs are not really ready to put in the blood and sweat this kind of work requires.

Concept Landscaping
Photo Credit: Pat Black owner Concept Landscaping

“To be a successful Tradie like we are it takes years of hard work and dedication and a lot of investment of time and money, and the road seems too far away and almost unachievable for these guys, says Pat Black, Owner of Concept Landscaping.

Pat believes TAFE teachers have an important role to play here. “TAFE teachers also need to watch what they say to these guys in class as they are telling them all sorts of things about earning $60 per hour when they finish. No. Not unless you have a UTE and all the tools and can work fully unsupervised. Without at least 5 years’ experience, it won’t happen!”

Jordan Miles who runs a Carpentry business agrees.

“The obsession with being the boss or in charge before they actually know what they are doing is what’s getting us,” Miles notes.

“If you do the hard work you will get somewhere - if you don’t put in the hard work then you will never properly learn the trade. And actually realise that they will be out in the elements & not sitting behind a desk every day,” Miles says.

The downturn in trainings and apprentices has been so severe that TAFE and other organisations have been running out of qualified teachers, and soon enough Australia will have to rely on migrant workers to fill the gap.

“Being a forklift engineer, we really struggle to find anyone looking for work in this field,” says Kerry Barlow who has been managing the backend operations for her husband’s business, North City Forklifts.

“People initially need the basic qualifications of a mechanic, but would then want to continue training in this specific field. We’ve been advertising for more staff for a long time and have only received applications from unqualified non-english speaking people who are looking for a work visa and have never even trained as mechanics.”

Many employers are hesitant to hire apprentices simply because it means putting too much at stake. “Most people want experienced people, which is why ‘work experience’ projects are necessary,” Kerry adds.

Wrapping it Up

National Center for Vocational Education Research shows that commencement and completion of apprenticeships and training both decreased by 4.4% and 4.6% percent respectively in the last year compared to 2016.

While there is no questioning the fact that college and university education is a proven pathway to many successful careers, apprenticeships offer people the opportunity to enjoy a hands on job and often the pay rewards that exceed some of the corporate roles available post university.

While government, parents and schools all have a role to play in mentoring apprentices and providing incentives to improve retention and completion, having realistic expectations on part of the apprentices with respect to the nature of work and the pay, are all important if Australia is to avoid the looming tradie drought.

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Logan Wadood

Written by

Wardah Wadood

Content Manager and Community Strategist at i4Tradies | Social Media Evangelist | Writer | Editor