A little help goes a long way

How can builders help pave the way for the next generation of apprentices? Maybe joining forces with subcontractors is the answer. HOUSING talks to two milestone hosts about their thoughts.

Photo courtesy Carlisle Homes


Gabrielle Chariton

As a HIA member, you would be all too aware of the skills shortages that have plagued the industry for several decades. According to the Australian Government’s most recent Construction Trades report1, eight of the nine construction trade occupations assessed in 2018 were found to be in national shortage. These included carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, cabinetmakers, plasterers, stonemasons, glaziers and tilers. The only sufficiently resourced category was painters. 

‘I’ve been in the industry for 27-odd years now and when I started back in 1993…there was always a conversation around putting more apprentices on, working young kids through the industry, and an ageing workforce – and those issues are still in existence today,’ says John Doulgeridis, Managing Director of Carlisle Homes.

A lack of suitably qualified trades compromises onsite efficiencies, productivity and ultimately the profitability of Australian building businesses. At a broader level, it impedes the industry’s ability to meet the demand for housing and contributes to increased end-costs for the consumer. 

As an industry, we know that the best way to tackle skills shortages is to attract and retain a steady flow of apprentices. However, because hiring apprentices can be costly – in terms of time, dollars and administrative load – trades can be reluctant to take them on. But if today’s most talented and knowledgeable industry professionals aren’t able or willing to train our future workforce, who will?

Two of Australia’s leading volume builders – Carlisle Homes and Henley, both based in Melbourne – have found success in supporting their subcontractors to take on apprentices through the HIA Builder Program. As well as helping to strengthen the industry, their businesses are also reaping rewards from this investment. 

apprentices Photo courtesy Carlisle Homes
Lachlan Carlow completed his carpentry apprenticeship and is now a subcontractor with his host trainers Henley
Photo courtesy Henley

The HIA Builder Program is open to any builder or manufacturer who subcontracts work or has customers who work in the trades, and is designed to encourage subcontractors to take on apprentices. It’s a partnership-based model – the builder subsidises the cost of the apprentice on their subcontractor’s behalf, while all the HR recruitment and paperwork is handled by HIA. 

John Doulgeridis founded Carlisle Homes in 2004, and came on board with the HIA Builder Program in 2011. Since then, Carlisle’s subcontractors have hosted 119 apprentices, with 13 now working their way through. A number have completed their apprenticeship and remain in the business today. Motivated by a desire to both support the industry and ‘lock in good trades’, John says it delivers tangible benefits to all involved: Carlisle, the subcontractors and the apprentices themselves. 

‘What the HIA do is make the initial setup costs, particularly in the first year, much easier to manage,’ John explains. ‘When an apprentice starts there’s a lot of learning to do, so the apprentices aren’t as productive. Many tradespeople find that difficult and don’t have the patience to be able to deal with teaching someone and for it not to be completely efficient. 

‘HIA makes it easy because the paperwork is done for the apprentices…time is money [for subcontractors], so more time on the job rather than focusing on red tape or paperwork, invoicing, whatever else, obviously assists the trades greatly. That’s what makes the program work really well for the subcontractors involved.’

John Doulgeridis: Managing Director of Carlisle Homes
Photo courtesy Carlisle Homes
Carlisle’s subcontractors have hosted 119 apprentices, with 13 now working their way through
Photo courtesy Carlisle Homes

Tony Blackshaw, CEO of Henley, agrees: ‘To provide a little bit of financial support when your apprentices aren’t as productive as they will be in the later years of the apprenticeship helps take the stress off the relationship between the contractor and the apprentices.’ 

Henley has been trading for 30-plus years, and after running its own apprenticeship program for a while, transitioned to the HIA Builder Program in 2007. So far, 278 young men and women have gone through the program, with several completed apprentices still working for Henley. A number of completed apprentices have also gone on to become contractor hosts themselves. The company’s mandate is simple, says Tony: ‘if you’re going to profit from the industry, you should give back to the industry and you should create resources for the industry going forward’. 

Critically, the program has allowed Henley to fulfil what it views as its ‘responsibility’ to promote employment through the industry. ‘Many of our subcontractors perhaps without this program would not engage with an apprentice,’ says Mark Glenn, Henley’s Victorian Builder Manager. Essentially, it makes training the next generation a more attractive, do-able proposition for trades. 

So what makes a great apprentice? John cites qualities such as ‘motivated’, ‘hard working’ and ‘committed’. ‘More importantly, they need to want to listen and learn,’ he adds. 
Mark says he looks for people ‘with a positive attitude’, who are ‘ready to take on new challenges and are willing to work in and with a team’. Both Carlisle and Henley report that HIA’s rigorous selection processes usually deliver candidates of the required calibre, the majority of whom see their apprenticeship through to completion. 

‘I feel that the HIA can attract good apprentices to start with, which always helps,’ John says. ‘I think they’ve got good processes…for vetting [new starters].’ 

Tony Blackshaw: CEO of Henley
Photo courtesy Henley
Mark Glenn: Henley’s Victorian Builder Manager
Photo courtesy Henley

Hosting apprentices gives all home builders the unique opportunity to train new workers to meet their own particular requirements and standards. By partnering with HIA Apprentices and their preferred subcontractors, Henley and Carlisle have been able to maintain a steady flow of reliable trades who have learned their skills from the best, effectively securing a consistently high standard of workmanship. 

‘We put them with trades where we know they’re going to be taught properly, we know they’re going to be given a range of experiences,’ Tony explains. ‘A lot of the trades that come through the apprenticeship program are now actually our best tradesmen.’ 

As well as addressing the perennial issue of skills shortages, initiatives such as the HIA Builder Program have never been more relevant than they are today, as employment rates continue to nosedive in the wake of COVID-19. The housing industry is dynamic, vibrant and filled with opportunity for the right workers; and by helping subcontractors shoulder the load of training apprentices, these builders are opening the door for more young people to enjoy rich, rewarding careers, while helping to futureproof our industry. 

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Builder Program partner contact Chris Fortune at HIA Apprentices on 0418 314 743.

1: Department of Jobs and Small Business, 2018, Construction Trades, Australian Government. 

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