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Initiatives building for construction’s future

AN ageing workforce and a reluctance to hire apprentices are forcing the construction industry to rethink its training initiatives.

Several Perth building companies have started addressing the decline in apprentice-ship numbers by offering cash incentives to sub-contractors to attract a higher calibre of apprentices.

However, there are suggestions from within the industry that not enough is being done to make the hiring of young people more attractive for employers.

A spokesperson for Training Minister John Kobelke said the State Government was currently reviewing the Priority Access Scheme.

The scheme currently works by affording employers who demonstrate they have a dedicated commitment to training with ‘priority access’, which counts as a point in the tendering process.

“The Government is examining the Priority Access System and hasn’t finalised a decision yet,” the spokesman said.

According to Master Builders Association of Western Australia executive director Michael McLean, there needs to be a focus on training to avoid a future labour shortage.

“A major problem for the industry is that insufficient numbers of people are being trained. It is a cause for grave concern in the future with an ageing workforce, and a lot of criticism will be directed at key stakeholders,” he said.

“There is an ongoing problem with both supply, young people choosing this industry as a career and pushing them through, as well as on the demand side, from builders and contractors to take them on and train them,” he said.

“Immigration has solved it in the past but what we need to focus on is why people are not choosing the building industry as a number one choice and what are the deterrents for people not taking on apprentices.”

Skill Hire operations manager Bob Hodnett said feedback he had received from the industry suggested apprenticeship numbers were declining because apprentices were becoming too expensive to employ.

“We’re getting feedback along the lines that they are [the contractors] concerned at the cost of employing an apprentice,” Mr Hodnett said,

“We need to work at government level to address the issue. If we don’t do it now, in 18 months or two years’ time it could be a lot worse.”

Skill Hire is the firm that has teamed up with a local building company in a $1 million initiative to boost apprentice numbers.

The Alcock/Brown-Neaves Group recently launched the program that commits the company to hiring 30 new apprentices from Skill Hire.

The program is targeted at the company’s sub-contractors, who are subsidised the cost of hiring and training an apprentice.

Alcock/Brown-Neaves Group director Dale Alcock said that the increased cost of hiring a third-year and fourth-year apprentice acted as a deterrent to many in the industry.

“The current system has resulted in a reluctance by employers to employ third and fourth-year apprentices because the wages significantly rise and many contractors cannot afford the increase,” Mr Alcock said.

The award rate for an apprentice carpenter jumps by more that $100 a week from the second and third-year apprentice level.

Dale Alcock Homes building manager Dean O’Rourke said the company was also offering a $1500 interest-free loan to those who completed the apprenticeship.

“It’s payable within 12 months but can go to the cost of setting up their own business. It keeps them in the industry so they don’t say it’s all too hard to set up,” he said.

“We also want to promote that sub-contractors can earn good money in this industry and change the perception that it’s for those who are no good at school, and make apprenticeships more available.”

Homestyle construction manager Bob Pennell said while the company had always employed apprentices, this year it had introduced a scheme aimed at achieving a more consistent intake of apprentices.

“We are offering 12-month traineeships to introduce them to the construction industry. All these boys have a preconceived idea about what it should be and this allows them to find out what it is all about, it is a good settling in period,” Mr Pennell said.

He said the sub-contractors were more inclined to take them on as an apprentice because it demonstrated a commitment.

“Some come on board and leave after three months because it’s not for them. With the trainee system you know you have someone who wants to carry out an apprenticeship,” Mr Pennell said.

He said Homestyle had employed eight trainees this year who, provided the traineeship was successful, would be offered apprenticeships. The company would take on another eight trainees next year, Mr Pennell said.

He said the parent company (BGC) also paid a subsidy to sub-contractors who employed apprentices.

Mr Alcock said subsidising the company’s sub-contractors would relieve them of much of the cost of retaining cost-burdens.

“The Alcock/Brown-Neaves apprenticeship initiative will inject additional funding into the industry specifically loaded to absorb the increases faced by contractors,” he said.

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