AUSTRALIA is on the verge of an apprenticeship drought — and some tradies are claiming it’s all down to the younger generation being a “bunch of softies”.
Apprentice numbers continue to drop across all Australian states as younger people begin to favour tertiary education more.
But it isn’t as simple as that says Nick Behrens, director of Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions, who said employers are “forever having a whinge that young people are lacking in life skills”.
The latest statistics from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research found that Queensland is in the grip of a total traineeship shortage but apprenticeships are the least affected.
Despite that, the study found the number of people in the middle of apprenticeships in 2012 was double that of 2017.
The official data shows just 57,100 people were completing traineeships or apprenticeships last year, a number so low it’s on the same level as last century’s statistics.
“We’re running a serious risk of underskilling our economy in future years,” Mr Behrens told news.com.au.
Yesterday afternoon, 4BC radio host Ben Davis spoke about the plunge in young people picking up a trade.
He said one caller named Matt “epitomised” the bulk of callers complaining about why exactly there weren’t many young apprentices anymore.
“One of the biggest problems I’ve seen was a lot of them don’t like to work hard or don’t respect the trade,” Matt told the radio host.
“They don’t even turn up on time … we are breeding a bunch of softies. I just think it’s a lack of respect,” he added.
Mr Behrens, an economist, said the drop in young people doing apprenticeships wasn’t because they didn’t want to work.
“The real problem is there’s not a strong business case for Queensland companies to be taking on an apprentice,” he said.
“There are many young Queenslanders who finished last year that would absolutely embrace the opportunity to commence an apprenticeship.
“It’s not a case of younger people needing to toughen up — the door just isn’t open to them” he said.
And it isn’t just Mr Behrens who is sticking up for young people.
Abiram Thiyagalingam, who runs his own construction company Kayts Construction in Sydney, said it’s wrong to paint all young tradies with the same brush.
“I’ve had young guys that have been absolute rubbish but then I’ve had other guys who have worked hard. It’s not like the whole community is a bunch of softies like that guy said — not everyone is bad,” he said.
When Mr Thiyagalingam was 17, he “worked his arse off” as a labourer over the school holidays and impressed the boss so much he was given an apprenticeship.
Now 25 and running his own successful business, Mr Thiyagalingam said the problem lies in young guys knowing a trade will make them a lot of money — but not realising the work they’ll have to do to get it.
“People want fast money and they know being a tradie will make them good money but a lot of them don’t realise how hard it is,” he said.
“If they’re willing to put in the hard work, they’ll rise through the ranks, but a lot of guys start and then don’t want to do it.”
Paul Hillberg, the general manager of Apprenticeships Queensland, said while there has been a plateau in young people taking on an apprenticeship, the data isn’t as worrying as everyone is making out.
The data includes all of the state’s traineeships including everything from hairdressing to bakers, some of which are in short supply, others that aren’t at all.
Mr Hillberg however did agree Apprenticeships Queensland, which places young people with employers, is stepping up the way it trains people.
“We’ve definitely seen a change in the culture where younger people are in constant contact with their friends and family on their phones and left to their own devices a bit more.
“We’ve had quite a few employers get in touch and say they’re struggling to keep them off their phone,” Mr Hillberg said.
“They’re often lacking a propensity to work,” he added.
Mr Hillberg, 40, said he’s in constant contact with his young apprentices, encouraging them to have “common courtesy” when they’re on site.
“Some things that might’ve been seen as a basic courtesy aren’t seen that way by some anymore.
“There’s a certain level of behaviour we expect but we’ve realised common courtesy actually isn’t that common,” he said.
Despite that, Mr Hillberg said he’s also had a lot of employers get in contact with him to remember that they weren’t exactly perfect when they were doing apprenticeships back in the day.
“A lot of these guys don’t remember that most of these kids have gone from going to school for six hours a day straight to eight or 10 hours of physical labour.
“One guy said to me the other day he remembered falling asleep in smoko break as an apprentice because it’s a hard thing to transition to,” he said.
But it isn’t just Queensland that is struggling with a traineeship drought.
A graph detailing the number of total training completions over the past 10 years in NSW also reveals a stark drop.
However the black line, representing apprenticeships rather than all training types, does show a slight rise in numbers.
Radio host Ben Davis spoke to Adam Profski, manager of training and licensing at Master Builders Queensland yesterday, who said construction apprentices were one of the only ones bucking the trend.
But despite construction workers going against the grain, Mr Profski still said it’s hard for a lot of employers to get apprentices.
“[Tradies] don’t have time to go and put an ad on Seek and find an apprentice. To go through that process takes time. Our guys are on the tools — they don’t have time for that.
“Construction is a hard industry … it can be a very physically and financially rewarding career if you do go down that road,” he said.
Originally published as Young tradies are ‘a bunch of softies’