New skills shortage to hit WA

A looming WA skills shortage is feared with 7000 fewer people starting training or apprenticeships in the year to June compared with the previous year.

A looming WA skills shortage is feared with 7000 fewer people starting training or apprenticeships in the year to June compared with the previous year.

An average of 225 people walked away from apprenticeships and training every week, or about 11,660 people in the year.

The cancellations were caused both by workers quitting and employers letting them go because they could not afford them.

Labour market forecaster Peter Dyball, who predicts skills shortage levels for mining companies, warned the next shortage would hit in two or three years.

Apprentice of the year, bricklayer Sam Lewis, said young people would have plenty of work when the shortage hit, especially amid an anticipated exodus of older workers from the industry in the next decade.

Figures show about 29,500 people started training or an apprenticeship in the year to June, compared with 36,500 the previous year. There are now just over 43,000 people in WA in training or doing an apprenticeship, down 2500 on the year before but on a par with 2010-11.

Mr Dyball said a boost now would avert a skills shortage in a few years but that market conditions were not supportive.

Many employers did not have enough work to finance more training. "It's very hard to have vision when you don't have the budget," Mr Dyball said.

He said the shortage would not be as acute as the last boom but would be keenly felt in key trades such as electrical.

Frank Allen, from WA's Group Training, warned the situation was already so dire that his firm had lost half its apprentices in the past two years.

He said half of all group training schemes were likely to "hit the wall within three years".

Mr Allen lashed a recent Fair Work Commission decision to lift apprentice wages about $70 a week from January.

The weekly pay for a typical first-year building apprentice who finished Year 12 will increase to almost $460.

The commission said the new rates reflected the older age of today's apprentices compared with previous generations, which typically began at age 14.

Mr Lewis, 19, who did his apprenticeship through Alcock Brown-Neaves in the South West, said there was an industry-wide spike in second-year dropouts.

Some left in frustration at being made to work as hard as anyone on site while getting paid the least.

Mr Lewis believed many took labouring jobs, which paid well without a taxing apprenticeship.

Other apprentices left after rea-lising in their second year that they were not suited to the career.

Mr Lewis, of Roelands, urged his peers to stick with training and take a longer term view.

The teenager is already subcontracting to home builders and is considering a builder's registration ticket.

Training and Workforce Development Minister Terry Redman said the fall in people training and in apprenticeships was largely from WA moving from the construction of mines to the operational phase.

He said the biggest dec-lines were in metals, manufacturing and services, electrical and automotive trades.

A downturn in metal fabrication contracts awarded by major resources companies had hurt the local industry.

"Moderating economic conditions are also affecting consumer confidence and spending on housing and in automotive sectors," Mr Redman said.

He said there had been a rush to traineeships in the year to June 2012 because of a Federal pay incentive, which had been removed.

Despite the drop this year compared with the previous year, this year's training and apprenticeships figures were well above the same 12 months to June in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

This year's cancellation figures were also marginally up on the previous year but could increase by hundreds with late notifications.

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