Apprenticeship Numbers May Have Bottomed Out: Ncver

A nationwide slump in new apprentices and trainees looks to have bottomed out, but a buoyant residential housing market could mean builders are still short of talent.

Latest figures show commencements in the traditional trades, such as carpentry and plumbing, were up by 1600 to 21,500 in final quarter of 2014, ending a series of declines since September 2013.

Similarly, trainee commencements experienced an uptick of 5300 to reach 31,700 for the same period. Traineeships are popular in retail and hospitality

The figures from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research are seasonally adjusted, giving industry groups reason for cautious optimism. "It's a good early sign; they seem to have stopped falling," NCVER general manager of research Sue Fergusson said.

While commencement rates in the traditional trades have been mostly steady in recent years, new traineeship numbers plummeted when the previous Labor government withdrew employer wage subsidies in mid 2012. That disruption appeared to have worked its way out of the system, she said.

Australia's unemployment rate last week reached a 12-year high of 6.4 per cent. The jobless rate among young people is even higher. Anybody without post-school qualifications is at a particular disadvantage and apprenticeships and traineeships are vital stepping stones.

"If you look at the structure of unemployment, overwhelmingly it is those workers without post school qualifications or who otherwise face barriers to employment that have the most trouble," Ms Fergusson said.

"That's a very grim picture."

Jim Barron, the chief executive of Group Training Australia, said the early signs were good. Group Training Australia is an umbrella group for state-based organisations that train apprentices for micro, small and medium businesses, which employ about 75 per cent of apprentices and trainees.

"I think we'll another quarter or two until we are confident that this upward tick is translating into increased and sustainable numbers in apprenticeships and traineeships".

"A lot of businesses are still doing it very tough. They are trying to maintain the size and scope of their businesses and seeking where possible, depending on the industry, to take on apprentices. But things are very tight. Youth unemployment continues to be a major problem. A lot of our members put up vacancies and get hundreds of application but often the quality of those applications is not high."

Master Builders Australia's latestNational Survey of Building and Constructionshowed that in the December quarter, builders' hiring intentions rose to a seven-year high on the back of a looming residential construction boom. The research suggested a sharp rise in builders' plans to take on more apprentices.

"There is room for optimism that the looming housing boom will drive a jump in the number of young people starting a building trade apprenticeship following a significant decline both commencements and completions since 2010," Master Builders chief executive WilhelmHarnisch said.

"However the industry is still facing a short-term skills deficit as the total number of apprentices in training has fallen 23 per cent since 2010 and are totally inadequate to meet the industry's needs. The challenge is [to] rethink the apprenticeship system to ensure it meets the needs of young people commencing building and construction careers and the future skills needs of the industry."

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