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Apprentices vs. subcontractors

As a builder or contractor, you're continually faced with critical decisions about how best to resource your onsite labour. The main avenues for skilled labour often boil down to two: apprentices and subcontractors. While both serve distinct roles in the construction ecosystem, deciding when and where to deploy each can prove challenging.

Subcontractors: Specialists for specific tasks

At the heart of subcontracting is specialisation. When you hire a subcontractor, you’re essentially seeking expertise for a specific task. Whether it’s house framing, plastering, or bricklaying, subcontractors come equipped with their own tools and skillset. Here are the essentials to know:

How they operate:

Unlike regular employees, subcontractors invoice for their services. They run their businesses independently, often juggling tasks for multiple clients. Importantly, they possess the autonomy to delegate their work to others.


The appeal of subcontractors often lies in flexibility. Need someone with a niche skill set on short notice? A subcontractor might be your go-to. Additionally, they alleviate the administrative burdens of PAYG and superannuation.


While subcontractors can be a boon for specific tasks, over-reliance can be costly. You may find yourself paying more for their services in the long run. Additionally, when multiple layers of subcontracting occur, maintaining quality control can become complex.

Apprentices: Nurturing talent from the ground up

Apprenticeships, by contrast, represent long-term investments in talent. When you hire an apprentice, you’re committing to moulding a budding professional into an expert aligned with your company values.

The basics:

Apprentices are full-time employees. Their wages, tax, superannuation, and other entitlements are all managed by their employer.


Apprentices are cost-effective. They're eager learners who've chosen a dedicated career path. By training them, you not only foster talent but also give back to the industry by ensuring its sustainability.


Apprentices require continuous supervision and training. They represent a longer-term commitment, with potential administrative overheads, unless managed through a Group Training Organisation (GTO).

GTOs: The best of both worlds

Entities like HIA Apprentices bridge the gap between traditional apprenticeships and subcontracting. They employ apprentices and lease them to businesses, providing an optimal solution for companies that might not offer permanent positions or a diverse work range.

Subcontracting or apprenticeship: Which to choose?

The decision often rests on the specifics of your business and the projects at hand:

For short-term, specialist tasks: 

Subcontractors may be more apt. Their expertise and ability to start at short notice can be invaluable.

For long-term growth and skill development: 

Apprentices are the way to go. They ensure you have a skilled workforce tailored to your business's ethos.

In essence, while the distinction between subcontractors and apprentices is clear cut, the optimal strategy might involve a blend of both. By understanding the strengths and challenges of each, businesses can better navigate the construction landscape, ensuring growth, sustainability, and excellence.

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