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Why Victoria has an Apprentice Crisis and How MBAV Aims to Fix It


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More than half of all Victorian apprentices quit their apprenticeship before completion–a statistic of extreme concern for the Master Builders Association of Victoria. What is more, despite construction being one of the largest employers, the state has only around 2,000 registered tradespeople, compared to around 40,000 in New South Wales and 46,000 in Queensland.

One reason this needs to be addressed, according to MBAV, is that jobs in the construction industry are expected to increase by 87,000 roles between November 2015 and 2020, with the majority of them expected to be in construction services like subtrades.

“The fact that more than half of those who begin an apprenticeship will fail to complete it—52 per cent—spells trouble for the building and construction industry, which is in great demand to build around 2.2 million new homes by 2051,” says Radley de Silva, CEO of MBAV.

“The fact that more than half of those who begin an apprenticeship will fail to complete it–52 per cent–spells trouble for the industry..." 

“There is a lot of work out there, but not enough skilled workers to perform it. Diminishing numbers of apprentices mean it’s not surprising that our members tell us they have great difficulty finding skilled tradespeople, in particular bricklayers, concreters, and carpenters.”

There are three major factors MBAV believes are contributing to declining numbers of trades apprentices. The first is a lack of understanding of the opportunities offered by a trades career on the part of the public, de Silva says.

“We strongly advocate for the government to invest in a comprehensive consumer awareness campaign to inform the community of the broad range of career prospects in the building and construction industry.”

The second factor is Victoria does not require mandatory registration of the majority of trades, something de Silva says erodes the value and necessity of completing an apprenticeship. This explains why Victoria, with one of the nation’s largest construction industries in terms of workforce and annual value of projects, has such a small number of registered trades.

The second factor is Victoria does not require mandatory registration of the majority of trades, something de Silva says erodes the value and necessity of completing an apprenticeship. 

“Master Builders has lobbied consistently for mandatory trades registration in Victoria, where there are only 2,000 tradespeople registered,” say de Silva. “Mandatory trades registration offers a benefit to consumers and the industry alike by improving accountability, quality, and ensuring minimum skills are obtained.”

He says MBAV is also concerned that a lack of “soft skills” among key players throughout the apprenticeship lifecycle is also contributing to the rate of non-completion.

“We consider that additional training, particularly around soft skills such as communication, is needed for career advisers to acquire more up-to-date information about trades careers; for employers to know how to better support apprentices and meet their needs; and apprentices to learn about good communication, and cultivating and maintaining a professional attitude.”

“Looking to the future, our industry needs to keep pace with these global demands in order to continue thriving,” de Silva says. That is why digital literacy is becoming an increasingly important skill.

MBAV is addressing this head-on through providing training in soft skills through its own Building Leadership Simulation Centre in South Melbourne. This type of innovative learning environment should become more common, he believes.

This type of innovative learning environment should become more common, he believes. 

“Master Builders also strongly advocates for increased investment in new building technologies, including sustainable and pre-fabrication methods so that young people entering our industry are equipped for the challenges on the horizon.”

Another way MBAV is taking action to understand and address the challenges facing apprenticeships is through a newly-launched Apprenticeships and Traineeships Completions Pilot Project. This 18-month project has received funding from the Victorian Government’s Department of Education and Training.

The initiative is focused on the construction sector among other things, and it will look at the relationship between employers and apprentices with the aim of identifying and resolving the issues thatmost likely contribute to non-completion of the apprenticeship.

According to the Apprenticeship Employment Network, Victoria’s peak body for Victorian not-for-profit group training organisations, the issues are national in scope. Its August 2017 policy paper, Hire Education, notes that apprenticeships and traineeships are struggling around the country. The commencement numbers have been falling for the past four years and completion rates have remained “stubbornly low”.

“If we don’t take action soon, our training system will not be able to meet the country’s demand for skilled labour, and at the same time, many young people will miss out on opportunities for rewarding careers as tradespeople,” the policy paper states.

AEN notes that while apprenticeships have for many years been recommended as a career choice for students that are poor performers academically, employers are demanding a lot more from their apprentices. Their expectations are high when it comes to literacy and numeracy skills, an understanding of the world of work, an appreciation of future technology, and an enthusiasm for their trade.

It's obvious more needs to be done to promote trades careers as rewarding.

It is obvious more needs to be done to promote trades careers as rewarding career options. What is more, people with disadvantages such as disability, learning difficulties or challenging family backgrounds can be helped to find employment in an apprenticeship and keep it.

Governments also need to take action to make the system more attractive and simpler for employers of apprentices, AEN says.

“Over the years, governments have tinkered and tacked on new initiatives, in many cases replicating group training practices. This has created a complex system out of what should be a simple contract between an employer and an apprentice.

“An employer may have contact with up to ten different stakeholders during the course of the apprenticeship — double that if they happen to have operations in more than one state.”

AEN says a simpler system is needed to reduce the number of stakeholders employers need to deal with, and that employers need to be able to have greater confidence in the quality of training their apprentice receives.

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

4 Benefits to Apprenticeships Beyond Simply Stemming Your Labor Shortage

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How to Hire Talented Workers Even During a Labor Shortage

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