The construction sector in Australia faces a looming skills crisis and is graduating only just over one third of the apprentices it needs to meet anticipated future needs, a leading building industry lobby group says.

New data from the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research shows that the total number of apprentices in training within the building and construction industry fell from 56,000 as at June 2013 to 43,100 as at June 2014 and had declined by 23 percent since 2010.

Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch said the research highlighted that the current training system was failing to meet the needs of industry and that current apprenticeship completion rates of between 11,100 and 14,500 per year were barely more than a third of what was needed just to replace retiring workers.

“This is a dramatic drop for an industry that will be one of the growth sectors in the economy and with an annual exit rate of 30,000 construction workers each year due to retirement,” Harnisch said, referring to the aforementioned fall in apprentice numbers in the system and adding that the sector will become increasingly reliant upon foreign labour if insufficient numbers of new trainees come though.

“Unless there is a dramatic increase in the number of people in skills training, then the building and construction industry is heading for a skills crisis putting billions of dollars of investment at risk.”

The figures come amid growing concern about the capacity of the industry to meet forward demand as building activity picks up.

Current estimates from the Department of Employment suggest the sector will need around 83,500 more workers between now and November 2018, with particularly strong demand in occupations such as plastering, floor finishing, wall and floor tiling and bricklaying and stonemasonry.

Already, recent builders’ surveys suggest skills are becoming more difficult to find in a number of areas – albeit with few immediate signs of drastic shortages emerging in the immediate term.

Harnisch noted new approaches to enhance apprenticeship pathways are needed along with a more flexible industrial relations system.

“The challenge is to reform the apprenticeship system to ensure our young people have the opportunity to be part of the future of building and construction,” he said. “To achieve this, new thinking is required to enable the industry and education providers to enhance pathways from school to apprenticeships and into rewarding careers in the industry.”

The latest data for construction comes amid a concerning drop in apprenticeship numbers generally, with the 45,400 commencements which took place in the June quarter being down by roughly a quarter compared to the same period last year and far lower than at any other time in the past five years.

  • Here we go again! Apprentice numbers will NEVER be adequate until there is a sensible system for paying them a decent wage. What is needed to attract school leavers from everything else they can do in other industries is a decent wage that could be the average of the total wage otherwise payable over all three years of the apprenticeship (i.e., the same wage, but for CPI adjustments, every year of the apprenticeship) – this would cause some cash-flow issues in the first year but would be rectified in third year. Training Levies of the type in place in some States and the ACT could remedy the cash flow problem – or some sort of HECS/HELP arrangement whereby a decent Training Wage top-up is paid in the early years repayable after completion.

    • What nonsense! The pay off comes from working 30years as a qualified /skilled tradesperson, not from learning it!
      Who gives tertiary students students a wage whilst they study? Not many, they repay HECS when they can afford to at a later date when they are reaping the benefits of higher incomes from skilled employment.
      In some good measure, it's a headset change required of the youth of today as much as the lack of opportunity to obtain an apprenticeship. Talking about wages misses the point.

  • going back to when apprentices started out of year 10. The importance that has been put onto students finishing year 12. Get them out of school if they can get a start with a good employer. If they need to finish year 12 let them do an equivalency course along side their tafe.

    Most genuinely good tradesmen didn't want to be at school , they wanted to be working with there hands outside. Kids today are lazy to a degree, by giving them opportunity to shape their own future earlier, we teach them a strong work ethic before its to late.

    I left school mid way through year 11 and was frowned upon for knowing I didn't belong at school. I run a Successfull roofing business and employ 4 apprentices.

    More school is the problem.

    • We are house builders and have built up a successful residential firm over the past 10 years. We also have a son and a daughter getting involved in the business.
      As a parent pathways to a good career for my kids is important. As a business person quality apprentices is a major concern – it's not good being passionate about a trade if you can't do maths and can't string a sentence together. Parents also need to confident that if their children don't complete year 12 then they won't be disadvantaged later in life.
      I don't think there is one size fits all solution. Putting the emphasis on the amount apprentices are paid just makes that the major focus when the emphasis should be pathway to a good career.
      I don't want my kids who are doing their trades to be exploited but as business person I want some recognition that our business is investing in the future of young people as well.

  • The apprentice crisis being seen now is I believe a direct result in the change of government policy impacting on the financial arrangements for this sector. The weekly pay for apprentices is appalling, this used to be compensated by tool allowances and completion bonuses. With the removal of such incentives comes a lack of appeal for young people to take on a trade. Australia has a harsh environment, working in extreme heat and in the southern states cold winters. Add on top of this a limited ability to work until 65 due to the physical nature of the work meaning young people no longer view the building and construction industry as a good option. Remuneration in the sector has also decreased, seeing many trades earning less than other industries which have more longevity in the later years. Government policy needs to consider these factors and support the industry by protecting their workers and ensuring the industry holds appeal to the next generation of workers and business owners.
    I speak from over 20 years experience in the industry as my partner is a builder and I teach Vocational Education in schools, so I understand the issues for both industry and education.

  • I agree with Trevor, the wage difference between a 1st yr apprentice and a fully fledged trades-person is extreme. I have never regretted doing year 12, but I admit a i struggled to save for the first 3 years of my working life as an apprentice carpenter and joiner.

    • I have trained over 40 apprentices in the last 25 years in my business and I have never had any trouble finding good kids to employ . The wages are not an issue as they are being paid while thay are being trained . It takes years if you can retain the employee to repay the employer with a monetary gain and it takes years for them to get skilled enough to do this . Alot of employers are reluctant to to give kids a go due to the cost and the ridiculous Fair Work modern award which has made it so hard in the building industry . Until this award is changed to help with procductivity then there will be no change in apprenticeship numbers . Just for the record i have 7 apprentices. I also have 3 employees that i apprenticed and have worked for me over 10 years and I have 1 employee who i apprenticed that has been with me over 20 years . The short answer is to be able to creat more apprenticeships is make it easier for businesses to employe them !

Lovegrove Solicitors – 300 x 250 (expires Dec 31 2017)