We are more than half way through 2015 and dwelling commencements have reached an all-time record high of 203,706 in the year to March, an increase of 15.6 per cent year-on-year.

While the building and construction industry is doing the heavy lifting in the economy, a shortage of tradespeople and apprentices is threatening future productivity.

According to research in the Apprentices and Trainees 2014 Annual Report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), overall commencements of apprenticeships and traineeships decreased by 21.9 per cent from 2013 to 2014, with non-trade commencements down 25.3 per cent.

The report showed that 2.7 per cent of Australian workers were employed as an apprentice or trainee as at December 2014, compared with 3.3 per cent in 2013.

Within the trades, 10.6 per cent of workers were employed as an apprentice or trainee as at December 2014, compared with 12.3 per cent in 2013.

For the building and construction industry specifically, since 2010 to 2014 the construction trade apprentice commencements has decreased by 18 per cent, from 24,400 to 20,000, although it is pleasing to note that year-on-year there has been an increase of 12 per cent in construction trade apprentice commencements.

However, against a reported projected completion rate of 31 per cent, this equates to only 6,200 apprentices going on to complete their construction trade apprenticeship. This falls far short of the required apprentices to meet the needs of the building and construction industry into the future.

Master Builders predicts the industry will require an additional 300,000 people over the next decade, nearly a 30 per cent increase on the current workforce of 1,033,000 people. Building and construction is the third strongest industry sector employment growth in the past decade, but there is a risk that poor apprentice commencements and completions could cause a significant skills shortage in coming years.

There is a need for new thinking and action on apprenticeships now before a serious skills shortage heavily impacts on the building and construction industry.

To provide leadership on the looming crisis, Master Builders has prepared a paper, Towards 2020: Policy for Australian Apprenticeship Reforms, which aims to provide solutions to stop the decline in construction trade apprentices.

The benchmarks for Australia’s Policy for Australian Apprenticeship Reforms outcomes are:

  • 80 per cent of the construction workforce holding a post-school qualification (currently 60 per cent)
  • Commencements reaching 30,000 per annum, up by 50 per cent on current commencements of 20,000
  • 100,000 apprentices in training, up 132 per cent from current apprentices in training of 43,100
  • Quality training outcomes with pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programmes delivering site-ready and productive apprentices to an appropriate level determined by industry
  • Introduction of a national building and construction skills passport
  • Introduction of a construction industry and school partnership programme that will support quality vocation and vocational outcomes in schools led by industry
  • Support mentoring programmes that have demonstrated evidence of increasing apprentice completions
  • Support for early intervention language, literacy and numeracy programmes that support apprentice completions
  • The establishment of RTO and GTO networks to facilitate industry and RTO/GTO engagement to minimise duplication and improve quality training
  • A review of training packages to deliver the qualifications and skill sets that meet modern employer requirements and funding policies in the states that support greater flexibility in VET
  • Provide teacher professional development and teaching materials that assist in the teaching and learning of construction in schools.

While Towards 2020: Policy for Australian Apprenticeship Reforms aims to address the decline in construction trade apprentices, the industry must also look at other challenges affecting the current workforce, such as an ageing workforce and an extremely low female participation rate in the trades.

Let’s calls on all governments to work together to revitalise VET. Let’s push for a truly National VET system that supports new entrants in the construction industry as well as upskilling our existing workforce to ensure a globally competitive workforce.