As the construction industry continues to face labour and skills shortages, Empowered Women in Trades’ Head of Programs Melinda Davis shares how investing in youth and attracting young people to apprenticeships could be the solution.
By Melinda Davis, Empowered Women in Trades’ Head of Programs.
Attracting young people to apprenticeships in industries like construction is a hot topic of conversation wherever the Empowered Women in Trades (EWIT) team go. The construction industry is desperate for young people wanting to undertake apprenticeships. Employers are keen to share their knowledge and invest in providing future generations the opportunity to learn a skilled trade. We are constantly being asked why young people lack the enthusiasm or desire to enter a trade role.
The short answer – the apprenticeship system is broken.
Backed up by a recent report released by the National Youth Commission of Australia, Apprenticeships and traineeships – delivering on potential, it is clear major changes are needed to increase enrolments and retention. In 2022, the apprenticeship system began receiving significant attention through the Australian Skills Guarantee consultation process and changes need to be made. Our skilled trades are crying out for support with a 5.8 per cent increase in jobs expected in the construction sector by November 2026, according to the Employment outlook report by the National Skills Commission.
So, what is the solution?
Strengthening career support for youth
Provide youth with insight, understanding and the human skills needed to thrive in an apprenticeship from start to finish. NCVER’s Completion and attrition rates for apprentices and trainees 2020 report shows that only 56.1 per cent of all apprentices and trainees that commenced training in 2016 went through to completion. In skilled trades specific roles, that number reduced to 55.1 per cent. To lose so many, you need to question how the career decision was made in the first place.
It is easy to blame a system – the apprenticeship system or the school system. It can always be better. What we really need to remember is that these systems are just two cogs in the wheel. No matter how good the system is, it will never be all we need to make the shift back to attracting young people towards apprenticeships and traineeships, specifically skilled trades in industries like construction. Current unemployment rates sit at 3.4 per cent nationally, however youth unemployment continues to buck trends and is sitting at 7.7 per cent nationally.
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Young people need cheerleaders. They need people in their corner showing them different educational pathways and career options from the start of their secondary schooling – not just at the time of their electives. Cheerleaders aren’t just our school staff, nor are they just the career practitioners at school. Cheerleaders are the community; they are those seeking the best for a young person, including parents, family friends, educators and neighbours.
During COVID-19, our young people experienced a significant disruption to their schooling. The personal experience in our home was challenging and some days were better than others. However hard, we also saw some real benefits appear during this period. Having my kids witness the day-to-day trials and tribulations of a workday, see the human skills on display, ride the highs and lows of success and get to ask questions about the world of work was a whole new experience. It was incredibly valuable and is something they would never have gotten to experience at such a young age. It made an impact.
As a community of workers, we can change the narrative. Career conversations need to start early. We need to plant the seeds for young people in Year 7 and Year 8 to start to give them ideas of what a career could look like for them, help them discover what they enjoy and what they don’t. We need to highlight different ways of learning, such as traditional pathways and more vocationally based pathways such as apprenticeships, as valid and viable options.
Education is changing, the world of work is changing and as cheerleaders for young people we need to make sure the advice and support provided reflects the environment we are expecting them to launch into. We are working in a world with less focus on the technical skills you currently have and more focus on the human skills you possess.
Shaping the narrative
Leave bias at the door – our careers have been shaped by experiences. Not all of these experiences have been positive. Just because you did or didn’t go to university, it doesn’t mean that’s the right option for everyone. Encourage our young people to explore their options and make an informed choice.
Remove the question – no longer are people asking, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ or ‘what career do you want when you leave school?’. We need to reshape our vocabulary to be more along the lines of ‘what will you enjoy doing over the next couple of years?’ or ‘how do you feel you learn best?’. Fun fact – many of the jobs that our current youth will take on in the future don’t even exist yet.
Remember – a career for most people spans for decades; it is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if the young person changes their mind, there is always another option. Supporting them to have realistic career goals and encouraging them to learn from failure will support a growth mindset.
Adjusting the mindset
To improve the attraction to careers in skilled trades, we need to continue to focus on expanding the conversation and experiences of trades from an early age, particularly for females. Adjusting the mindset of females to take up these roles is crucial in building a continuous pipeline. Only two per cent of trades roles across Australia are currently held by women even though 50.7 per cent of the Australian population as of June 2022 is female. We can be the drivers of change.
The EWIT team had the privilege of working with several secondary schools across Victoria in 2022. We worked specifically with female and non-binary students in Year 7 and 8 to introduce them to the world of trades via immersive experiences delivered at school. Students were provided with the opportunity to get on the tools and try something different.
Delivering these sessions to over 150 students in the early year levels allowed for lived experience, created the freedom to explore possibilities and allowed for discussion around apprenticeships and traineeships as a viable vocational pathway. After just a double school period, students provided us overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“Today I learned that stereotypes around trades are not true and there is so much more to trades than meets the eye,” said one student.
“I love the idea of this program,” said another young student. “It is spreading an amazing message for girls and giving me hope that a career in trades could be for me.”
Government funding and support is a critical piece of the puzzle to allow experiences like this to be delivered to our workforce of the future. The investment needs to be less in the system and more in the future pipeline. Funding should be provided for programs that provide immersive experiences and focus on the five pillars of positive psychology – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment – and further provide young people with the tools needed to flourish in a skilled trade career.
Every successful system needs a solid foundation, and the apprenticeship system is no different. Building the belief in young people from an early age that an apprenticeship is an exciting career option is crucial to seeing the system succeed. Providing immersive experiences and developing realistic career goals will provide critical support to industry, attracting apprentices and creating a pipeline of potential employees. Creating the pipeline will go a long way to fix the gap and help fill the 5.8 per cent of new roles being generated in construction. The EWIT team will continue to do this in 2023 and beyond.
No one voice alone will provide the solution – it will truly take a village. Are you ready to join the EWIT village and make a significant impact in this space?