John Holland rail apprentices Leanne Tran and Kerrie Griffin at work in the Melbourne suburb of Newport. Picture: Jay Town
John Holland rail apprentices Leanne Tran and Kerrie Griffin at work in the Melbourne suburb of Newport. Picture: Jay Town

The areas where Aussies can’t find a tradie

Plummeting numbers of apprenticeships and trainees across the country have led to a skills shortage crisis that is hitting homeowners and businesses hard with trades now seen as a "second class" career option.

New data shows the numbers of apprenticeships and traineeships have dropped as much as 50 per cent in some capital cities over the past seven years while graduates are being churned out with qualifications businesses say are useless.

**Above figures collated by Federal Opposition **

 

In NSW, the numbers have dipped by more than 30 per cent, in Victoria it is nearly a 35 per cent decline, Queensland has lost more than 32 per cent, in South Australia it has fallen by 50 per cent, in Western Australia nearly 30 per cent, Tasmania, seven per cent and Northern Territory about 10 per cent.

Capital cities have also suffered with Sydney and Adelaide losing around 50 per cent, Melbourne and surrounds more than 40 per cent and Perth and northern suburbs, 33 per cent.

John Holland rail apprentices Leanne Tran and Kerrie Griffin at work in the Melbourne suburb of Newport. Picture: Jay Town
John Holland rail apprentices Leanne Tran and Kerrie Griffin at work in the Melbourne suburb of Newport. Picture: Jay Town

Industry insiders say opening up the vocational education sector to private providers has damaged TAFE badly with the private suppliers' cherry picking the low maintenance, high fee paying business-focused courses and leaving the expensive machine-driven trade courses like construction to TAFE.

The dwindling supply of apprentices and trainees also means there is no pipeline which is cutting deep into our nation's skill set and has driven up the price of trades.

Advanced manufacturer PFI's General Manager of Defence and Aerospace Nick Green says his "only limitation to growth is the skilled labour.

 

 

 

"We have calculated that we would be at about 40 to 42 per cent growth based on jobs we have had to turn down because we haven't had the capacity," he said.

Mr Green said they were flooded with university graduates but struggled to find tradies.

"We are letting our kids down -- in our company we have 20 engineers and over 110 tradesmen and what that means is there is a massive skew in society.

"Trades are seen as second class and they should be first - they are an amazing first step for a successful career."

Gavin Oakham says there’s no shortage of work in Queensland. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Gavin Oakham says there’s no shortage of work in Queensland. Picture: Steve Pohlner

John Holland apprentice Gavin Oakham, 29, is training to be a leading hand on the Morayfield station upgrade, north of Brisbane.

"What I like about this work is the broadness of it, and when you are making things the end result is very fulfilling - and there is no shortage of work here in Queensland."

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the issue was compounded with the numbers of TAFES has been slashed from 57 in 204 to 35 from 2014 to 2018.

"Not only do have the cuts but money has been redirected towards private provisions," she said.

"Many of the private providers don't have the same benchmark in terms of qualified and experienced staff and that is how they make their profit."

Declan Prosper, first year apprentice bricklayer with bricklayers Glenn McPherson, apprentice manager Bruce Kirby and Shane McPherson at their work site in Sydney’s Harrington Park. Picture: Brett Costello
Declan Prosper, first year apprentice bricklayer with bricklayers Glenn McPherson, apprentice manager Bruce Kirby and Shane McPherson at their work site in Sydney’s Harrington Park. Picture: Brett Costello

Federal Government data shows around 60 per cent of qualified graduates in automotive were not hired due to lack of technical and soft skills, in construction it was two-thirds and in engineering trades it was more than three quarters.

CEO of Weld Australia Geoff Crittenden was scathing of the skill set of some graduates.

"There isn't enough being done to encourage apprentices to take up welding, the curriculum for welding is outdated and doesn't meet industry needs - the tech available to TAFE is so far behind what is available to industry it is not funny.

"If we were take 100 welders across the board and test them to an international standard 95 per cent would fail they haven't received the right training to meet modern standard."

The Housing Industry Association's (HIA) Chief Economist Tim Reardon said despite a recent slowdown in the housing market, their data still shows a substantial shortages of bricklayers, carpenters and ceramic tilers.

"From a homeowner's perspective, that shortage results in an increase in cost of skilled labour that flows through to cost of final product," he said.

Federal Government data shows around 60 per cent of qualified graduates in automotive were not hired due to lack of technical and soft skills.
Federal Government data shows around 60 per cent of qualified graduates in automotive were not hired due to lack of technical and soft skills.

The latest HIA data shows despite the lull the price of skilled labour increased by around eight per cent across the regions nationally.

Hipages CEO Sharon-Zipser said they noted a high demand in particular for plumbers, electricians, handymen and airconditioning technicians, as well as fireplace experts, appliance repairs, locksmiths and pool maintenance people.

 

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"Each year, three-quarters of Australian households will engage at least one tradesperson, translating to huge business potential for apprentices and continued growth of the tradie industry overall, especially as our population and housing industry continues to expand," she said, adding that there were only 250,000 residential trade businesses nationally compared to $70 million paid residential jobs completed within the year.

Opposition skills spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said: "For the last seven years the Liberals have ripped billions from TAFE and training - and this is the result. Scott Morrison has created this national shortage of tradies, and he's got no plan to turn things around."

The lack of consistent job mapping has also left the industry flying blind with no accurate predictions of how many trades will be needed, although the National Skills Commission is believed to be tasked with this job.

Minister for Employment and skills Michaelia Cash said "the way we currently labour market forecast leads to substantial variation in both what is produced and how this information is used. Yet getting this information right is critical.

"The NSC's approach to skills demand forecasting, working with the States and Territories, will allow for consistent advice relating to skills need and demands. This will provide more confidence to employers and students that they are investing in the right skills."



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