Anyone that has been in the WA building industry for 10 years or more will tell you that we are currently experiencing one of the toughest downturns in residential building activity ever. At the forefront of this change is the demand for bricklayers.
Bricklayers are accustomed to change and they are generally resilient in the face of fluctuating market cycles. However, given we’ve recently come off an extended period of unprecedented building growth leading up to June 2015, staffing levels and contracts have since reduced significantly.
The area of greatest concern for ABBTF in this environment is for Apprentices “In Training”.
In the 12 months leading to March 2016, 38 bricklaying apprentices withdrew from their apprenticeship, 102 were suspended and a huge 188 cancelled their apprenticeship outright.
We know from ABBTF historical data that bricklaying apprentices in WA who don’t complete the apprenticeship are most likely to leave in the first year of employment. In fact, 72% of all cancellations occur in the first year, whilst only 22% occur in the second year and even less in the third year, at just 6%.
The high departure rates are partly due to poor suitability to the trade, breakdown in relationship dynamics, some health issues and of course lack of work. The latter is certainly a concern in this current phase as many bricklayers just don’t know where and when the next job is coming from.
In addition rising operating costs and falling rates have compounded issues relating to apprenticeship employment. These issues are less likely in times of prosperity.
ABBTF is currently working hand-in-hand with industry to try to prevent cancellations and suspensions by sharing information about flexibility in the apprenticeship system (see ABBTF June e-newsletter).
In addition ABBTF, CTF, Government and industry partners will continue to try to improve retention of apprentices with a variety of strategies such as the selection process, pairing, education, mentoring and other support mechanisms. However, given the dimension of the current situation, ABBTF calls upon WA builders that have the capacity to support Out-of-Trade or Suspended Bricklaying Apprentices where possible to consider taking on these apprentices.
Appreciating that many builders are rationalising costs within their own organisations, the way forward may be for builders to identify preferred bricklaying contractors and help ABBTF pair apprentices with these businesses. In turn this may have the effect of strengthening relationships with contractors and even potentially help to create some sustainability in the long term.
We know from some builder-based apprentice schemes that the end game objective and payback is to achieve retention both during the apprenticeship and post-apprenticeship; with many bricklayers progressing to form teams exclusively with those builders. Some loyal apprentices have even gone on to senior positions within those building companies.
Many reading this article will be ex-tradesmen who have participated in employing apprentices in the past, if not having completed an apprenticeship of your own!
ABBTF is available to take your call and come out and visit you or the contractor to discuss everything from employment methods, training needs, through to wages and entitlements. We can even arrange for the closest Apprenticeship Support Network office to come out and formulate the apprenticeship contract on site. Alternatively ABBTF can put you in contact with one of our partnering Group Training Schemes.
A Bricklaying Apprenticeship takes 3 to 4 years to complete, regardless of the building cycle and as such “in-training numbers” need to be maintained through new commencements and or re- engagements if the industry is to maintain a quality trade base into the future!
ABBTF WA Manager