10/09/2008 - 22:00

In-house training key to staff issues

10/09/2008 - 22:00

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A SHORTAGE of qualified tradespeople is one of the downsides of Western Australia's mining boom for many small businesses, which struggle to compete with the mining sector in attracting and retaining staff.

A SHORTAGE of qualified tradespeople is one of the downsides of Western Australia's mining boom for many small businesses, which struggle to compete with the mining sector in attracting and retaining staff.

But according to Cathy Verriers, co-director of Bassendean-based machining and fabrication company Verriers Engineering Services, the pipeline of tradespeople has been declining for some time.

"In the late 1980s, exactly the same sort of situation was happening, finding staff was really hard and wages were spiralling out of control. We saw the same thing happening with this mining boom," Ms Verriers said.

"We thought, 'if we can't get them [externally], we'll train from within'."

In 2004, the family business decided to broaden its apprentice training program, which had targeted high school graduates for more than 10 years, to mature-age employees.

These candidates were mostly recruited as general hands and trades assistants, before being offered an apprenticeship.

"Trades were downplayed [as a vocation] for about a decade, so as a result there's a whole group of 25 to 35 year olds that didn't have vocational pathways to take, or are only considered for semi-skilled jobs," Ms Verriers said.

"We're tapping into this pool because they're work-ready and they've got the skills."

It's a strategy that has allowed Verriers Engineering to keep its staff of 13 - which includes Ms Verriers and her husband, Craig - relatively constant.

The company has employed up to five apprentice machinists and welders at one time, and has kept its core group of employees intact for four years.

It has used a number of avenues to target recruits, including jobs expos and government agency Jobs Australia, which assists the long-term unemployed.

Ms Verriers said the financial strain had been considerable at times, given that mature-age employees were paid above the apprentice rate and existing staff were required to provide training.

However, she said the business had coped by trimming salaries at a management level and relying on its base of family members, including Ms Verriers' two daughters.

Verriers Engineering, which was founded in 1946 and bought by Ms Verriers and her husband in 1985, is actively involved in promoting trade careers to high school students, working with the Swan Education Industry Training Association and Swan Alliance to visit schools for career days.

The company also hosts student groups on-site, including those at risk of disengaging from high school, and has been involved in Tafe's Industry Working Group to reform the apprenticeship system and improve recognition of on-the-job training.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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