High apprentice attrition rate cause for concern

by Iain Hopkins05 Mar 2013

Employer groups and unions are facing off over the apparent high rate of attrition among young apprentices.

According to Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) president Andrew Dettmer, some 48% of apprentices will quit before they finish, mostly due to low pay.

The AMWU is currently lobbying Fair Work Australia to increase wages, and has made a submission to increase wages for first-year apprentices to become 50% of the full-trade rate. Dettmer said apprentice’s survival often comes down to the charity of their parents. “We know that apprentices are a crucial part of the Australian economy and unless there is some kind increase to their rates of pay then we're going to find that our skills shortage, which is already bad, is going to get worse,” he added.

Yet Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) chief executive Innes Willox said the idea that employers can simply afford massive pay increases for trainees is untenable – the current economic climate is too tough for a wage increase.

Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch commented that a wage increases would have in fact have the opposite desired effect, and lead to job losses in the industry. “Economic conditions and profits in the building industry are very dire. The industry is already laying off jobs," he told the ABC. “Last year it nearly shed 70,000 jobs. To simply ask for a wage increase at this point in time is simply not sustainable.”

Harnisch said employers may be forced to stop hiring apprentices or lay off the ones they already have if wage costs go up. “[It] will have a devastating impact on the employment prospects of apprentices, both those currently employed and those who are looking to apprentice having left school last year,” he said.

Do you believe attrition is too high among apprentices? What's causing the problem? Tell us what you think.


  • by M Curtis 5/03/2013 5:28:58 PM

    If low wages is the issue then why do we loose so many from within the mining apprentice training system as well? In my experiance most struggle with the educational requirements.

  • by R Pollock 5/03/2013 11:17:22 PM

    No doubt there is high turnover amongst aprentices but I think the reasons are not just about the pay rates. Far too many take on an apprenticeship at urging of family so they'll have a job; but often they are simply mismatched to the apprenticeship they take on. I agree with view that the educational requirements are one factor but in my opinion, I don't think companies are doing enough to buddy, mentor these young people. You can't take a 16 yr old and expect him to behave like an adult overnight. Young folk want to party. Somewhere, these kids have lost any kind of sense of resonsibility so it it social networking, parties, drugs and booze. Then they find they can't afford that lifestyle and move on to earn more labouring. In my experience, those who have the smarts and want to progress are often stymied by companies who hold them back and don't allow them to learn new tasks "until next year". Often what is a four year apprentice can be finished in three by the smart ones yet they become frustrated and quit because they are bored.
    This issue needs a whole new set of eyes to take a good hard look at what is going on.

  • by Linda Nall, MEGT Australia 6/03/2013 9:26:32 AM

    Research on the main reasons for leaving an apprenticeship from the 2009 ACCI and NCVER surveys, combined with feedback from MEGT’s own Group Training operation can be summarised along the following lines:

    •didn’t have the maturity to understand and think through what they were getting into
    •personal financial difficulties for someone who has never needed to manage finances before
    •distracted by life experiences
    •think the grass is greener in a different industry or with a different employer
    •job didn’t turn out to be what they had originally expected
    •expectations of the employer are too high for them.

    Let’s look at their world for a moment. It’s usually their first job and they have left the supportive environment of school to the brand new environment of the workplace. It is a totally different protocol for dress and behaviour.

    They have money for the first time, so they can buy a car now and they can easily overextend themselves if they don’t have financial advice, (advice they will listen to and respect).

    Their friendship group has changed – so they are trying to establish new bonds in the workplace. They are worried about being accepted as an adult in their new workplace and whether they will be respected as a person – or not. Who can they confide in without jeopardising the esteem of their peers?

    They went from the top of the pile in secondary school, where they knew what to expect and how to perform and how to behave. Now they might feel as though they are at the bottom of the social pile in a new workplace. They don’t want to look stupid by asking what they think may be perceived as being dumb questions, and they can be pretty good at putting on a confident face. It can be maddening to get a one-word answer when you ask ‘are you alright?’ or ‘does that make sense?’ or ‘do you know how to do it?’

    And then there’s falling in love.

    On the one hand, their first job is a big right of passage for a young person. But on the other hand, a car, a TV and a girlfriend can be just as important to them.

    So what can you do if you’re not the parent or their confidante?

    Employers need to be ensure they are aware of the challenges facing their apprentice or trainee. Take notice.

    Employers need to make the time to talk to their apprentice or trainee.

    Everything else will flow from that: the mentoring, the support, the pastoral care, the assistance in moving from a school kid to a working adult.

    Make the time to 1. be aware, 2. talk and 3. support.

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