Apprenticeships need to be promoted as ‘sexy’ to avoid a skills crisis, experts say
New National Centre for Vocational Education Research figures reveal that apprentice and trainee numbers in South Australia have dropped by more than half in five years, with some industries recording declines of almost 90 per cent.
It has prompted warnings from industry groups that the state is facing a skills shortage and missing out on the next generation of workers.
The numbers have also reignited calls for a exemptions to payroll tax – a measure the Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis is keeping his powder dry on before he delivers the State Budget next month.
The head of the State Government’s skills and employment department says all states and territories have experienced an overall decline in apprentice and trainee numbers since mid 2012.
But, with figures showing South Australia has among the highest youth unemployment in the country – 14.7 per cent compared with the national average of 13.3 per cent – industry and business leaders and welfare agencies argue more needs to be done.
SA Council for Social Service chief executive Ross Womersley said apprenticeships needed to be better promoted.
“That will bring pressure to bring people from other parts of the world to fill those jobs,” he said.
“I don’t think we think they are sexy any more. We don’t promote them as we used to. The industry needs to be out there promoting them as pathways for the future.
“I am convinced there would be young people who would be delighted to move into apprenticeships. Not all students are academic.
“Apprentices classically have been one of those places where people that are much better with their hands might find job opportunities.”
Mr Womersley said skilled shortages in the future would mean the state would have to look overseas for workers to fill the void.
Master Builders Association SA chief executive Ian Markos said apprenticeships and traineeships were the lifeblood of any industry.
“They create the next generation of skilled workers and, ultimately, the next generation of business owners,” he said.
Mr Markos said numerous issues had contributed to the decline, including sham contracting (former employees who take on an ABN but don’t charge superannuation or insurance) and fully-skilled workers costing less than an apprentice and requiring no supervision.
The association has called for a reintroduction of payroll tax exemptions – scrapped in 2012 – for apprentices and trainees.
“If we can give businesses one less reason to overlook them, then that will bring huge benefits to the state,” Mr Markos said.
“And that exemption should not be limited by age – too many mature apprentices are looking for work when they remain some of the best workers, ready to learn.”
Between September 2011 and September 2016, the number of South Australians, aged 45 and over, engaged in apprenticeships and traineeships dropped by 84 per cent.
Business SA Industry and Government Engagement executive director Anthony Penney, who also supports payroll tax exemptions, said apprentices and trainees were vital to meet the demands of the state’s future skills needs and address high youth unemployment rates.
“If South Australia does not improve apprentice and trainee numbers, we will face a lack of skilled workers needed for not only for current industries but, importantly, the industries of the future,” he said.
“Without an adequately skilled talent pool, businesses will struggle to emerge and grow.
“South Australia’s competitiveness for attracting investment will also diminish versus the other states.
“Awareness of the opportunity apprenticeships and traineeships can provide needs to be increased among our youth and at an earlier age.
“These pathways can lead to immensely rewarding careers that go beyond the traditional trades that people often think of.”
State Development Skills and Employment Department executive director John King said: “Proportionately, the fall in South Australian activity has been felt far less in trade apprenticeships and South Australia continues to have the highest completion rate in the nation for trade occupations (currently 57.5 per cent), which is 11.3 percentage points above the national average.”
Mr King said that, over the past 18 months, the South Australian labour market had strengthened with solid employment growth and a declining unemployment rate, as well as recent improvement in business confidence.
Carpenter’s plank for the future
MORPHETTVILLE carpenter Luke Davis was never a fan of sitting in a classroom.
Instead, he preferred hands-on learning and gaining practical skills.
The 2016 Master Builders Association Apprentice of the Year says his career path is one that South Australians, both young and old, should consider.
“You get paid and you get to learn in a practical way,” Mr Davis, 22, said.
“I never really considered going to uni; it wasn’t my kind of learning.
“(With an apprenticeship) everything is based around a trade instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.”
Mr Davis, who was appointed an Australian Apprenticeship Ambassador by federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, joined trade school in Year 11 and finished his apprenticeship last year.
He said concerns about apprentice pay rates were often overstated and that the money was good compared with people going to university and racking up “massive HECS debts”.
“And they don’t have any full-time work, yet but my mates that have done apprenticeships have full-time work already,” he said.
“I managed to save and buy a house as a fourth-year apprentice.”
Mr Davis is working full-time with a builder and wants to start his own business, employing apprentices, in the future.
Apprenticeship and trainee decline September 2011-September 2016
Industry percentage change
Engineering, ICT and science technicians – 90%
Managers and professionals – 87.5%
Machinery operators and drivers – 85.7%
Clerical and administrative workers – 84.8%
Printing trades workers – 75%
Labourers – 63.1%
Other technicians and trades workers – 52.1%
Skilled animal and horticultural workers – 44.4%
Community and personal service workers – 38.1%
Technicians and trades workers – 33.6%
Automotive and engineering – 27.8%
Construction trades workers – 26.5%
Hairdressers – 25%
Electrotechnology and telecommunications trades workers – 22.2%
Sales workers – 18.4%
Food trades workers – 8.3%
Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research