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Issue #1658      October 1, 2014

Crisis in Australian apprenticeships

An independent analysis commissioned by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has revealed a crisis in Australian apprenticeships, with:

  • A national shortfall of mining apprenticeships of 3,300
  • Construction apprenticeships down by 28 percent since 2010
  • The ratio of apprentices to tradespeople in construction at its lowest level since 2003 – 12.4 percent

The report found the mining sector would need to increase apprentices by around 37 per cent to match its share of total tradespeople.

The CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor said the findings were a wake-up call, particularly in light of last fortnight’s spike in youth unemployment. “The unemployment rate across Australia for 15-19 year-olds is now at a massive 21 per cent – more than double the rate in 2008 and the highest since April 1997,” O’Connor said.

“The extensive use of temporary migrant workers by construction and mining firms is just exacerbating the problem.

“There are around 20,000 457 Visa workers in construction and mining – mostly in WA, Queensland and Victoria.

“Yet despite these findings and the dire youth unemployment situation, the government is considering expanding employers’ access to overseas workers by loosening 457 Visa requirements and declaring designated regional migration zones.

“And big mining and construction companies are not meeting their responsibilities to support and train up the next generation.”

The CFMEU is calling for urgent action to address the slump, including

  • Requiring employers, especially those using temporary overseas labour or receiving any form of government assistance to take on greater numbers of new apprentices
  • Urgent investment in vocational education and training to reverse the decline in funding, quality and places
  • Strengthening and rolling out labour market testing across all occupations to make sure that employers genuinely look for locals first before taking on overseas labour

Other findings of the report include a decline in the quality and take-up of apprenticeships and training due to:

  • A 33 per cent cut to TAFE funding over the last ten years, contributing to a 25 per cent reduction in classroom teaching time
  • Student fee increases, and the abolition of the Tools for the Trade scheme that provided $5,500 to apprentices for equipment, as employers no longer provide it. (Students are now forced to take out loans of up to $20,000.)

The report identifies the decline of the public sector as a major funder of construction work, and the growing reliance on global capital markets to fund Australian construction projects as drivers of the cost-cutting and declining standards across the industry.

This has driven a high proportion of small firms and self-employed contractors in the industry to be less likely to take on apprentices.

Next article – Nurses and midwives defeat wage freeze

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