Slowing industry hurts apprentices

STATE Government statistics showing a decline in the total apprentice numbers in Victoria over the past nine months have not surprised industry players.

Local developer and construction company BFN Development’s director, Brett Neilson, said he believed the industry as a whole had declined by more than official figures showed.

“It’s been a very tough year; we need to know what is going to happen in the power industry because the lack of certainty is affecting investment,” Mr Neilson said.

“We need more construction projects, more infrastructure projects, more of everything.”

The number of apprentices in the state had dropped by five per cent over the year to September, according to official figures cited by Group Training Association of Victoria.

In a media release from last week, GTAV executive director Gary Workman said the number of apprentices aged between 15 and 19 years had declined 13 per cent over the same period.

“This is a worrying trend and shows that businesses are concerned about the economy and whether they can afford to put on an apprentice,” Mr Workman said.

“From the feedback Group Training Organisations are getting from employers, we don’t expect this to improve over the coming year.”

Mr Workman cautioned a decline in the number of apprentices meant fewer young Victorians were able to get on the path to skilled, well-paid work.

He said while the State Government had ramped up its support for apprentices, it was “not enough to counteract the poor economic conditions”, while the Federal Government’s three-month Kickstart program failed to impact take-up rates.

“The Federal Government should continue the Kickstart program beyond February 2013,” he said.

Mr Workman said with VCE results to be announced today, thousands of school leavers would be thinking about their job prospects.

He said the falling number of apprenticeships would make it harder for younger people who wanted to learn a trade.

Homegrown group training organisation Apprenticeship Group Australia’s managing director Mark Knox said its numbers were more than 15 per cent off from its peak as a result of poor economic conditions and wavering business confidence.

“It is a concern that the numbers are trending this way as we all want to see more people given the opportunity to undertake apprenticeships and traineeships to avoid future occurrences of skills shortages,” Mr Knox said.

While he acknowledged governments needed to step in to assist, a longer term intervention strategy to address the issues especially in Gippsland was needed.

Saying the Kickstart program only had “a massaging effect on apprenticeship commencements” at a time when employers would hire apprentices regardless, Mr Knox said it would not address the real issues at hand.

To mitigate the situation, he said there needed to be more advocacy on behalf of future apprentices, trainees and the region for the government to open up opportunities for young people to transition into the labour market.

Meanwhile, in response to questions from The Express about the situation, Skills Minister Peter Hall said the State Government had increased funding for all apprenticeships in skills shortage areas, “now and in the future”.

“Victoria will continue in 2013 with the Apprenticeship Support Officer program, which provides pastoral care for young first-year apprentices next year,” Mr Hall said, adding the ASOs would provide employees with guidance on apprenticeship matters.

“This investment has helped drive a 34 per cent increase in government -funded training, with 587,000 Victorians enrolled in September this year.

“Enrolments in training courses for specialist occupations in high-demand areas grew 19 per cent in this time.”

Mr Hall said indicators showed more training was taking place in areas where skills were needed greatest.