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Apprenticeships and Universities Must Meet in the Middle When it Comes to Construction

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What would you prefer: completing a four-year apprenticeship while earning an average income of approximately $50,000 or completing a three to four-year degree earning nothing and coming out at least $30,000 in debt?  

With that in mind, the latter option certainly doesn't seem so appealing to younger Australians considering a career in construction. In fact, it's commonly believed that for most of high school graduates the main driving force to attend university is not expanding future career options, but a societal bias towards attending university.

When it comes to options, employability, and the costs associated with university, the decision to undertake a trade apprenticeship within the construction industry can, in many cases, be the more financially sensible option. Not just in the short term, but also in the long term.

It isn’t just that the apprenticeship is more financially sensible. 

It isn’t just that the apprenticeship is more financially sensible. University is often quite a stressful time for students that aren't always mentally prepared for three to four more years of strenuous study. The United States' National Centre of Statistics found that approximately 40% four-year university students drop out before completing their chosen degree.

Job prospects are also a defining issue in the gap between career options. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research found that around 84% of apprentice and trainee graduates were employed immediately after completion of their course. In comparison, Graduate Careers Australia found that only 68% of university graduates of the same year gained full-time work within four months of graduation.

With the opportunity to be your own boss and have a constant flow of work, trades are becoming an increasingly viable option. The enormous increase in real estate price and the need to construct further residential and commercial projects to cater for the growing population is an indicator of an exceptionally strong market.

This strong market has had a significant impact on the average wage of trades. The current average Australian wage for a qualified electrician is over $32 an hour, with a construction foreman sitting at $36 an hour, and a bricklayer/carpenter sitting at around the $30 mark.

This strong market has had a significant impact on the average wage of trades. 

NECA Electrical Apprenticeships general manager Tom Emeleus asks why school graduates are going to university with such a low rate of employment gaining a degree.

"We're setting up a generation of youth with unrealistic job expectations and large debt," he says. 

"In NSW, there are ten qualified school teachers seeking employment for every available job. This is just one of numerous examples. Tradies understand the value of a trade and the career opportunities it represents, but the message isn't getting through to school leavers." (news.com.au)

There is a very clear issue with the system currently in place. Apprentices have stability and certainty. University, on the other hand, is the more costly and difficult option and has little certainty around future prospects. There needs to be a change, as construction and engineer personnel have difficulty gaining high-end accredited skills while maintaining a sustainable work/life balance.

University, on the other hand, is the more costly and difficult option and has little certainty around future prospects. 

With so many options weighing towards an apprenticeship to learn a trade, why is it that University remains such an uncertain and expensive option? Obviously, there is a need for those with a deep understanding of specific avenues across the constructions sector, as there is a need to adapt to the constant pressures of elements, such as technology and the environment.

However, there are clearly too many students studying construction-based degrees and coming out with no job opportunities. There is a necessity for apprenticeships and universities to meet in the middle, be that through a lowering of university fees, a certain job at the end of study, a decrease in university intakes, or the capability to gain real experience during the study of a degree.

There is no simple answer, but there is one certainty – this will only get worse. Construction tradespeople are a foundation for any nation. The industry will only grow as the population of Australia skyrockets, moving more people to growing capitals like Sydney and Melbourne that struggle to cater for this populace with sustainable infrastructure.

If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy: 

How to Hire Talented Workers Even During a Labor Shortage

Help Wanted – How Technology is Fighting the Construction Labor Shortage

4 Benefits to Apprenticeships Beyond Simply Stemming Your Labor Shortage

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