WA builders warn of skills shortage during apprenticeship drought
CONSTRUCTION groups are worried about a skills shortage in WA with apprenticeship intakes dropping dramatically in the past three years.
The number of people in full-time work is growing but there are concerns the State might not be able to fill demand for labour as the economy improves.
Department of Training Workforce and Development figures reveal apprenticeship intakes in parts of the construction industry have dropped by almost 90 per cent since 2015.
Bricklaying apprenticeships dropped from 500 in the 12 months to March 31, 2015 to just 58 in the same period this year — an 88 per cent slide.
Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation WA manager Dean Pearson said many employers were not taking on apprentices because of economic uncertainty, but when construction activity picked up WA might not have the trained people to take on the work.
“Our main challenge in these lean times is finding employers who can take on apprentices,” he said. “Since 2015-16 things have cooled off, but long term we still need to train bricklayers. People training now will be well positioned later.”
The number of West Australians starting apprenticeships in the building and construction industry has almost halved from 2330 three years ago to 1274 last year. In carpentry and joinery, numbers starting qualifications dropped from 735 in 2015 to 463 in 2017.
Ben Oliver, who runs Perth Carpentry and Maintenance, made the rare move of taking on two apprentices this year.
Aware he was bucking the trend, Mr Oliver said the young workers were a key part of his business.
“Every time I take them on they are surprised, they all say they have been struggling to get someone to take them on,” he said. “I think they (apprentices) are brilliant. They are cheap and they are willing to learn, they work hard.”
Charles Williams, 19, started his carpentry apprenticeship yesterday with Mr Oliver and said he was grateful to be employed.
“I called about 20 companies and Ben was the only one to pick up and say he wanted to meet me,” he said. “It is very hard to find apprenticeships. A lot of my friends are struggling to keep their apprenticeships. They have to shuffle around different companies to get the work.”
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe spoke about the lack of training provided by businesses trying to cut costs in a speech on productivity, wages and prosperity last week in Melbourne.
Dr Lowe said while there was still spare capacity in the labour market, industries were finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable workers.
“One explanation for why firms are reporting that it is hard to find workers with the necessary skills is that the very high focus on cost control over recent times has led to reduced work-related training,” he said.
Electrician apprentice commencements in WA dropped from 1494 in 2015 to 1156 last year and industry experts say they are continuing to decline.