By Ron Maxwell - CEO

It’s no secret that we are heading towards a skills shortage, in both traditional and non-traditional trades, and if we are going to avoid this looming crisis, more businesses need to invest in our young people.

There are many benefits for a business in taking on an apprentice, from short-term gains through incentive programs, to longer term outcomes, such as increased productivity and profitability.

And it’s not only our trade industries that will benefit, it’s our economy too. With youth unemployment as high as 21 per cent in some regions, creating more job opportunities is key to reducing the cost to us all.

Now more than ever, it’s in our best interests to give our youth a chance, and as a new wave of Year 12 graduates finish school and enter the job market, there is no better time for employers to take on a trainee or apprentice.

“Now” generation can commit

When I talk to tradespeople, one of the main reasons I hear for reluctance to take on young trainees or apprentices, is that the current generation of youth can’t commit; that their investment would be wasted when the employee quits before completing the training.

There are many stories out there about the “now” generation and a lack of commitment that would seem to support these concerns, but in fact, the opposite is true. I have previously discussed the fact that apprenticeship commencements are down, and this is a concern for the industry on another level, but completion rates are on the rise.

With rising youth unemployment rates across the country, particularly in our regional areas, young people have shown that they want these opportunities, and they will hold on to them.

The other concern I hear is that tradespeople are worried that they will train their apprentices, who will go on to move to a competitor, or open their own business, in direct competition. While there is always some validity to this concern in any industry, employing strategies to develop and retain employees is key, and with a crisis looming, expanding our industry markets can only be a good thing for us all in the long term.

Unskilled, but ready to learn

It can seem like a risk to take on an unskilled young person, but taking on apprentices and trainees can build the targeted skillsets a business needs, increase productivity and even profit - and there are many stories out there that showcase this.

I have previously discussed my belief that schools aren’t preparing our students for the workforce, but this doesn’t mean that young people aren’t ready to learn. A lack of access to trade-based subjects and workplace skills, doesn’t mean today’s kids don’t have the attitude to succeed.

Government incentives have a role to play

The Australian Government offers a range of financial incentives to employers taking on trainees and apprentices, and it’s important that employers seek guidance to navigate the system. Apprenticeship Network Providers, like VERTO, have the knowledge, connections and experience to make sure a business is getting the most out of what’s on offer. A good provider can also help businesses to recruit, train and retain the right apprentices.

In my opinion, governments can and need to do more to encourage and support businesses in training our youth. The longer a young person remains unemployed, the closer they are to facing the harsh realities of long-term unemployment, higher barriers to finding employment and an increased likelihood of mental health issues, amongst others. The social and economic impacts are costly. In fact, long term unemployment is costing Australian tax payers in excess of $3.3 billion each year. Prevention is always better – and often cheaper - than a cure.

With such high youth unemployment rates, it can seem like a mountain to climb, but I believe it can be done. Governments need to act fast by getting out there and talking to employers and Apprenticeship Network Providers, who are at the coalface, to get the best advice on what can be done.

The time is now

November/December is a key time in the job market, as school leavers take their first steps into the workforce and our trade industries are well-placed to capitalise on this. With a growing demand for trade services and a sharp increase in youth unemployment, a trade is one of the most viable career options out there.  

If businesses can see past the stereotypes and commit to finding the right apprentices, they will realise the benefits; building the skills they need today and in the future, and increasing productivity and profitability, while also taking advantage of incentive packages.

It’s a win for our industries, our young people, and our economy.