Electrical apprentice completion rates currently sit at just 52% – a figure that is far too low for the skills needed to power Australia’s future.
A survey of 642 electrical apprentices, conducted by Essential Media for the ETU, showed more than 37% considered quitting their apprenticeship.
Cost of living pressures
The top reason apprentices gave for thinking about termination was wages (17%) ahead of work culture (16%) and cost of living (14%).
Low apprentice wages are having a major impact with one third reporting their pay was not adequate to cover bare necessities such as food, travel and housing.
Most apprentices surveyed use their own vehicle to get to and from work. The majority of apprentices spend between $50 and $99 on petrol each week, with 34% traveling more than 200 kilometres to and from work.
Apprentices on a union enterprise agreement were less likely to worry about cost-of-living pressures, whereas the majority of apprentices being paid minimum award rates said their wages don’t cover the bare necessities.
A failing mentor program
The survey exposed deep problems with Australian Apprenticeship Support Networks (AASNs), which spent nearly $330 million of taxpayers’ money in the 2020/21 financial year.
AASNs have responsibility for providing apprentices with mentoring and support. However, two-thirds (66%) were ‘unsure’ who their AASN provider is. Just 11% of apprentices surveyed said they received mentoring from their AASN provider. Half received no support whatsoever.
Over the next four years, AASNs are predicted to cost the government almost $920 million.
More than 88% of apprentices had not discussed electives with their AASN provider despite electives being integral in renewables training.
Electrical Trades Union Acting National Secretary Michael Wright said the survey laid bare deep problems with apprenticeships.
“These damning results paint a devastating picture of a broken system,” he said.
“With apprentices considering quitting in droves, urgent action is needed to arrest a looming skills crisis that could have shocking consequences for generations.
“The crisis is made worse by the abject failure of the Apprenticeship Support Network system. Mentoring is key to keeping apprentices in training, but taxpayers are down to spend more than $1.25 billion over five years for something that is simply not doing its job.”
The ETU will lobby the government for reform in this area at the National Jobs and Skills Summit in September.
“We need a Powering Australia skills plan to upskill our workforce and train the thousands of Australian workers with the right skills to meet the demand,” said Michael.
A huge thanks to the hundreds of apprentices who completed the survey. Your answers will help inform national policy and improved outcomes for apprentices.