One issue that is likely to arise in coming months is the availability of reputable tradespeople to undertake the repair and rebuilding work. History with previous bushfire recoveries shows that they take many years to complete so the pressure on trades may be limited to a few locations and for relatively short periods. The extent that there is pressure on trade availability will unfortunately be a reflection of a much more endemic issue for the residential building industry: our training system is not evolving quickly enough to cater for new
technologies and a broader range of people who could work in the industry.
The apprenticeship system has survived for hundreds of years and meets the needs of people interested in a full trade qualification and who can make a three- or four-year commitment to training. However, people who want something less than a complete trade or who want to work as contractors are not being catered for and are missing out on training opportunities. It is also clear that the current system is not meeting the needs of women, given their extremely low presence in the industry.
Training for the industry has also been hampered by the complexity and instability in the funding arrangements that apply across the federal and state governments. Funding for vocational training has been shrinking, and all too often good training programs are not funded or are not funded for a sufficiently long time to allow them to mature and demonstrate their real worth.
For its part HIA is continuing to employ more than 400 apprentices and make them available to HIA members without the need to make a four-year commitment to the apprentice (read about one host’s story on page 87). HIA is also advocating to the federal government for this year’s budget to include funding:
- to allow contractors to be able to train towards a qualification in their own time and at their own pace. This group is mostly ineligible for government programs and typically cannot afford to work for apprentice wages;
- for ongoing mentoring of apprentices. Very successful mentoring programs have ceased due to the lack of long-term funding;
- for incentives for apprentices to complete as currently only around half of people who start an apprenticeship get to complete;
- to support new approaches to ensuring that young people entering the industry have at least the minimum necessary literacy and numeracy;
- a consistent multi-year level of funding for vocational training; and
- for ongoing support for innovative vocational training programs in schools that also address the cultural barriers that career counsellors and parents have against anything other than a university pathway.
These initiatives combined with a consistent migration program could be the beginning of some durable reform to our training arrangements. Vocational education and a career in the building industry has played second string to the focus on universities for too long.