Apprenticeship overhaul needed to make up the numbers

July 5, 2024 BY

Recent data shows that building and construction apprenticeship commencements have fallen 22 per cent in the year to December 2023.

As the building industry scrambles to boost its workforce in preparation for the Big Build, new data is showing the industry is already on the backfoot with apprentice numbers in decline.

The recent data released from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research shows building and construction apprenticeship commencements have fallen 22 per cent in the year to December 2023.

Only 41,935 people started a building and construction-related apprenticeship in 2023, down from 54,035.

In response, Master Builders Australia has released Future of the workforce: apprentices in building and construction report, which shows it will take a village to ensure Australia attracts and retains our next generation of trade apprentices.

The report highlights some of the barriers impacting the industry’s ability to attract and retain apprentices and puts forward a holistic list of recommendations to reverse this trend.

MBA chief executive officer Denita Wawn said that despite a sizeable workforce of more than 1.35 million people, the industry was facing acute shortages with an annual exit rate of 8 per cent, of which we are presently only replacing half of that rate.

“Prolonged construction labour shortages will lead to a $57 billion reduction in Australia’s GDP over the next five years.

“The role of improving our domestic pipeline of workers is critical to overcoming the housing crisis.

“For decades, we have seen the cultural erosion of trade apprenticeships with students being pushed towards the university system.”

The industry notes their apprentices are paid to learn, unlike their higher education counterparts who pay

to learn.

VET and higher education are both integral parts of Australia’s education system and should be viewed as such, the MBA argues.

Ms Wawn said it would take a concerted effort by governments, industry, schools and the broader community to turn the ship around.

“The federal government made a range of positive announcements aimed at attracting more apprentices into the building and construction industry in the recent budget.

“We would like to see these measures expanded with stronger support from states and territories.”

The MBA recommendations include:

Promoting varied and rewarding pathways to school-aged students, their parents and careers advisers

Overhauling the funding for and quality of careers education in schools

Investing in programs that provide clear and practical information on what an apprenticeship and future career pathway in the industry could be

Supporting schools to adopt better integrated vocational education and training into the school curriculum, especially in early high-school years

Encouraging secondary school students to undertake their White Card training, and

Expanding support for women in building and construction programs.