Where have all the apprentices gone?

Debate rages whether it’s young people’s work ethic, or plain tough times, that is to blame

Where have all the apprentices gone?

Australian businesses needing apprentices may be hard pressed to find them, and the drop may be pointing to a skills shortage among young people.

The number of apprentices today – which includes all of the state’s traineeships from hairdressers to bakers -- is half what it was five years ago, reported news.co.au.  

Official data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research show 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,” said Nick Behrens, director of Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions.

“Employers are forever having a whinge that young people are lacking in life skills,” he said.

Paul Hillberg, the general manager of Apprenticeships Queensland -- which places young people with employers – said they have definitely seen a change in culture.

“We’ve had quite a few employers say they’re struggling to keep [apprentices] them off their phone,” he said.

“They’re often lacking a propensity to work,” Hillberg told news.co.au.  “There’s a certain level of behaviour we expect but we’ve realised common courtesy actually isn’t that common,” he said.

But Abiram Thiyagalingam, who runs his own construction company Kayts Construction in Sydney, warned against generalising about young people’s work ethic.

“It’s not like the whole community is a bunch of softies— not everyone is bad,” 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.

Behren said the drop in numbers was not because young people didn’t want to work.

For example, “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.

The trend appears the same in NSW, where total training completions over the past 10 years have dropped.

Adam Profski, manager of training and licensing at Master Builders Queensland, said at a radio show that construction apprentices were one of the only ones bucking the trend, news.co.au reported.

It’s still 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.

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