Posted 01/03/2020

Skills shortage crisis risks future of tradies

Skills shortage crisis risks future of tradies

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.

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, 7 per cent and Northern Territory about 10 per cent. Industry insiders say opening up the vocational education sector to private providers has damaged TAFE badly with the private suppliers cherry picking low maintenance, high fee paying business-focused courses and leaving 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 skillset and has driven up the price of trades.

Advanced manufacturer PFI’s defence and aerospace general manager 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.

He 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.”

Australian Education Union Federal president Correna Haythorpe said the issue was compounded with the numbers of TAFES slashed from 57 in 2014 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.”

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

Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden was scathing of the skills 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 standards.”

Housing Industry Association’s chief economist Tim Reardon said despite a slowdown in the housing market, their data still shows a shortage of bricklayers, carpenters and ceramic tilers.

“From a home owners’ perspective that shortage results in an increase in cost of skilled labour that flows through to cost of final product,” he said.

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

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

Employment and skills Minister Michaela Cash said current labour market forecasts “lead to substantial variation in what is produced and how this information is used.”.

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