The challenge of getting an apprenticeship

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Apprenticeship Supply and Demand

Scott Oldham: struggling to find an electrical apprenticeship

Aptitude tests, massive competition and constant rejection are just some of the challenges faced by apprentices looking for a start in the midst of a hiring slowdown in some areas.

This in the midst of a government drive for new apprentices to address skills shortages and poor apprenticeship completion rates.

However for 20 year-old Scott Oldham from Thornton in NSW, about two hours’ north of Sydney, the real issue is an apprenticeship shortage.

For two years Oldham has been searching for an electrical apprenticeship, applying for five to 10 apprenticeships each month without success.

Oldham completed an electrical pre-apprenticeship course in 2013 as well as work placement with an electrical company to further his experience. He holds a white card, HSC, drivers licence, his own vehicle and is prepared to travel.

However when his apprenticeship applications result in the next phase in the recruitment process, competition is fierce with larger companies requiring aptitude tests and multiple interviews. Oldham cited a recent role with Newcastle-based Bloomfield Group he applied for where he was competing with 1100 applicants.

HR Superintendent for the Bloomfield Group, Larissa Nugent confirmed they had 1100 applicants for five positions, one of which was electrical.

“This response to join the Bloomfield Group’s Apprenticeship Program is not unusual”, she said, citing the company’s reputation for training and skills development as well as community and family values.

“In previous years the company has received a similar number of applications,” Nugent added.

However she also said there were fewer positions available in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley recently due to “the economic downturn”. The region has faced mining closures and redundancies in the past 12 months, as part of the mining slowdown meaning industry demand is shifting.

According to NVCER national statistics, in the five years to June 30 2014, construction apprentice starts have remained relatively steady although completion rates have been increasing, meaning more competition at the business end of town.

Number of Construction apprenticeship commencements and completions 12 months to 30 June 2009 to 2014
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Commenced 26,443 33,351 36,379 34,414 32,965
Completed 15,786 16,599 18,797 20,756 20,062
Source:  National Apprentice and trainee collection, September 2014 estimates.

 

Construction Skills Queensland (CSQ) CEO, Brett Schimming told TTT that Queensland Government data showed apprenticeship commencements in all industries are 25 per cent higher at December 2014 than at the same time last year.

“Some of the highest increases [are] being seen in Plant Operations, Bricklaying, Carpentry, Plumbing and Electrical. Other trades required to meet the demand in residential and commercial work include finishing trades (such as painters and plasterers), plant operators and steel fixers,” Schimming said.

However he added that despite increases in apprenticeship completion, apprenticeship retention is still a challenge for the industry and lifting completion rates is an ongoing focus for CSQ going into 2015.

“Many construction businesses face difficulties recruiting and employing suitable employees… leading to increased cancellation rates amongst apprentices and trainees, particularly in their first year.”

However despite this Schimming said high competition for apprenticeships is not uncommon especially with current high levels of youth unemployment and recent school leavers in Queensland.

“It is not unexpected that you would see large numbers of applicants competing for jobs.”

For Victorian apprenticeship demand, TTT spoke to Melbourne-based Hickory Group, an award-winning builder who focus on prefabrication and directly employ 60 to 70 per cent of their workforce rather than through sub-contractors.

“In Hickory’s experience there is quite an oversupply in carpenters, especially here in Melbourne.  We get a number of calls and enquiries from qualified chippies…we don’t have the resources to take them all on,” said Hickory’s communications manager, Nadia Salajic.

“Similarly there seems to be a number of electricians looking for work also, but an undersupply of painters and bricklayers,” she added saying demand had been consistent in the past five years.

The popularity of these trades are reflected in Schimming’s comments.

“Career-seekers looking to enter the industry have always gravitated towards the well-known trades of carpentry, electrical and plumbing,” he said, adding that the shifting demand from heavy engineering construction back to residential and commercial building should see more new apprenticeships open up in traditional trades.

Schimming added that CSQ and the industry is focused on fulfilling future demand for skills.

“The question is not about an over or undersupply of apprentices and trainees now, but ensuring there is an adequate supply of apprentices and trainees in the pipeline,” he said.

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Interestingly, Hickory Group does not advertise and employs only through word of mouth and those who have contacted them, suggesting proactivity is important.

“Our networks are wide enough that we generally are able to advertise within our own circles first and find a suitable candidate that way rather than placing ads,” Salajic said.

Schimming said pre apprenticeship training will also help, citing CSQ pathways into apprenticeships and traineeships such as Doorways to Construction, Doorways to Civil Construction and TradeStart programs.

“These programs provide skills pathways for career seekers and new entrants to enter the construction industry and front-load them with entry level skills appropriate to industry requirements and direct experience working in the industry,” Schimming said.

For Oldham, the search continues and despite being prepared to travel, or even relocate, he said he still can’t crack the market.

“If it’s outside of 45 minutes travel a lot of places won’t hire you because of fatigue issues… which is fair enough for the company – they don’t want to be held liable.”

“It’s disheartening at first, especially when I don’t get to the interview stage but I am kind of used to it. I don’t let it bring me down I just go and apply for other jobs.”

He said being older than a lot of his competition may also hinder his chances.

“It could also be because next year I will become a mature apprentice [21] and they’ll have to pay me more,” he said.

Interested in an electrical apprentice? Get in touch with TTT and we’ll pass you onto Scott Oldham. You can also post your vacancies or availabilty for work in the TTT Forum and we will promote it on our social media channels.

For more on where the jobs are at read After the boom: future jobs in the trades

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Tom is the founder and publisher of Tools Trades Toys. He has been working as an editor and producing content for the trades for around five years. He loves to tell a good story.

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