Home > Building Australia’s Future by Paul Bastian – Acting National Secretary, AMWU

Building Australia’s Future by Paul Bastian – Acting National Secretary, AMWU

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article image Paul Bastian – Acting National Secretary, AMWU
An area of increasing concern for stakeholders in Australia’s manufacturing industry is the high drop-out rate among apprentices, which is expected to impact the future of the industry.

According to 2011 data from the National Centre for Vocational Education, a record high 48% of apprentices dropped out before they completed their training.

Manufacturing employs nearly one million people in Australia, providing other industries and the overall economy with significant benefits. A major crisis is however developing in terms of building of skills in the workforce. Manufacturing needs skills and apprenticeships are the pathway to providing those skills, making it imperative for the industry to attract and retain people in skilled trade apprenticeships.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) recently released the results of a comprehensive national survey conducted on apprentices, which showed that:
  • 66% had considered giving up their apprenticeship due to poor wages
  • 40% had considered giving up their apprenticeship due to lack of mentoring
  • 34% had considered giving up their apprenticeship due to their friends earning more after completing less training
Apprentices reported being paid lower than workers at fast food eateries. Further results from the survey show that 42% of apprentices are married or in a de facto relationship and 20% had children. These workers are conflicted, with competing opportunities to earn more for their family in the short term by taking up unskilled labour positions such as those in the mining industry.

The current apprentice system is clearly not designed to reward the pursuit of higher skills. After 330 training hours one can achieve a Certificate III in retail and receive the C10 Award adult rate, while it takes 960 training hours for an engineering apprentice to get to the same level.

Apprentices also have to bear most of the costs of training with employers and government shifting the cost towards the apprentice. An apprentice from a regional area may end up spending an estimated $10,000 a year towards living and transport expenses with absolutely no reimbursement except for a state government subsidy of $20 per night of stay during the training period.

A significant improvement in wages and conditions is an important first step towards arresting the high drop-out rates among apprentices. Further steps need to be taken by all industry parties and government to ensure that apprentice training in skilled trades is properly recognised and rewarded.

In recognition of the need to attract and retain apprentices, the AMWU, along with other unions, has made a claim through Fair Work Australia (FWA) to vary awards to increase apprentice wages, and amend conditions to make sure they are properly compensated for training and travel costs.

It is important to train Australians to meet the challenges of the Australian manufacturing sector now and in the future by maximising their employment through apprenticeships and making those apprenticeships worthwhile.

The complete article is available in the latest issue of the AMT magazine by AMTIL .

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