Supporting our future

The importance of apprentices for the future of Australia’s building industry should not be undervalued. HIA mentors are playing a significant role in supporting apprentices to persevere in completing their trade.

Author

Chris Natt

Apprentices today face numerous challenges that affect their ability to get qualified. Many young people struggle with the transition from school to the professional workplace, and the pressures of their new work life – plus the varying conditions they find themselves in – are often compounded by events happening in their personal lives. Statistics show that more than 50 per cent drop out of their training in their first two years – a circumstance that will invariably impact on our trade numbers in years to come. 

Recognising this alarming statistic, the Australian Government funded a two-year national mentoring program to address the issue, covering all trades who undertake apprenticeship and trainee training. The Industry Specialist Mentoring of Australian Apprentices (ISMAA) Program is designed to specifically target and support first- and second-year apprentices, with HIA selected as one of the specialist providers.

With the challenging objective to mentor more than 3000 apprentices over the contract period, HIA employed and placed 14 mentors at TAFE campuses across several Australian states. The mentors’ aim is to engage with apprentices, and provide them with tailored advice and support while they attend campus for training. HIA mentors sit down with apprentices one-on-one to help them resolve any problems or issues they are facing, both on the job and in their personal lives.

To advance the discussions, HIA mentors introduced a list of 40 conversation subjects, ranging from health and wellbeing to communication skills, skill development and career pathways. At the first face-to-face meeting the apprentices were asked to choose the subjects they had a particular interest in so this could be discussed in more depth at the next meeting.

It is interesting to note that as the mentor slowly built a rapport with their apprentices some of the discussion topics expanded into more deep and meaningful dialogues, helping to expose the genuine concerns these young adults have at the beginning of their working lives. 

apprentice mentor tradie employer

The apprentices of today have evolved in a very different era to many of their employers and fellow trade colleagues

 

The apprentices of today have evolved in a very different era to many of their employers and fellow trade colleagues. As a result, many enter the workforce unprepared and lacking in confidence. This uncertainty and self-doubt can manifest over time if left unaddressed, ultimately impacting on the quality and quantity of their work. 

The program so far has revealed that many employers and other trades have high expectations of these new job starters and are either unaware or fail to notice the warning signs of an apprentice under stress. The concerns the apprentices have raised with their HIA mentors to date are many and varied, but some of the recurring issues included:

  • placing apprentices in awkward situations with unrealistic demands (by either an employer or work colleague)
  • discrepancies in pay rates and employment agreements
  • poor quality and unsafe working practices and conditions
  • intimidation and harassment from employers or bullying from fellow employees.

Often, the apprentice was not willing to raise the issue with their employer for fear of losing their job. This is where the mentors played a valuable role. They guided apprentices to valuable information available on the Fairwork Ombudsman website and provided them with appropriate methods to address the issues with their employers, as well as helped to keep them focused on their work and studies.

Another obstacle impacting the ability for some of today’s apprentices to smoothly transition into their new work lives is poor communication, literacy and numeracy skills. Without these skills many young people struggle to cope with the training and general requirements of their trade, for example, problem solving – which of course is a high priority in the workplace.

apprentice mentor employer

HIA hopes that once the statistics of the program are analysed the government will reinvest in similar trade support programs

 

During the ISMAA Program, TAFE lecturers referred apprentices who are struggling to keep up to HIA mentors. The mentors work closely with the TAFE Foundation Skills Department to find suitable learning opportunities that will give apprentices the extra help they need to stay on track with their apprenticeship.

However, the elephant in the room for many of these young people is the stress – and subsequent impact on their mental health – associated with the many changes happening in their lives. HIA mentors have a role to play here too. When issues are raised or symptoms identified, the apprentices are referred to the TAFE Student Counsellors. The mentors continue their care of the apprentices by helping to support the strategies that had been discussed with the practitioner.

From HIA’s perspective, the ISMAA Mentoring Program has been an extremely successful innovation by the Australian Government, and in our case alone, 3700 apprentices have managed so far to receive, on average, five hours of face-to-face mentoring – a support mechanism they probably never would have received otherwise. The disappointing circumstance of such a program is that it only has a life for the term of the funding arrangements, and unfortunately, that runs out on 31 December.

I’m extremely confident however that HIA’s mentoring team has made a significant difference in many young adults’ lives by helping and supporting them to maintain their focus on achieving their trade in the building industry. Valuable data gathered from the ISMAA Program gives us an insight into the way young people think and feel about the unknowns they encounter as they enter the working world, which has since been shared with the government. HIA hopes that once the statistics of the program are analysed the government will reinvest in similar trade support programs. After all, how well the industry attracts, develops and retains its apprentices will have a lasting impact on our future.

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