BIG increases in apprentice wages could add to the challenge of getting jobs for apprentices in the present difficult labour market, south-west apprenticeship co-ordinators say.
However, they said the pay rises, up to hundreds of dollars a week for some trades and ages, could reduce the number of apprentices who drop out of their apprenticeships because they were discouraged by their low pay.
The pay decision by the Fair Work Commission will deliver substantial wage increases to apprentices employed in building, electrical contracting, manufacturing and plumbing trades as well create higher pay rates for adult apprentices for the first time. The pay rises, which will be introduced over two years, will lift pay rates for a typical first-year apprentice who has finished high school and is nearing the end of their apprenticeship by about $304 to nearly $400 — an increase of almost a third — per week.
Pay rates for first-year apprentice electricians aged over 21 will double from $289 to $579 a week.
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) said low pay rates were a major contributor to low retention rates, with nearly four in 10 apprentices failing to complete their training.
South-west Sarina Russo Apprenticeships representative Allan Main said he expected the negatives from the pay rises to be short-term.
Mr Main said while the pay rises might deter some employers from taking on apprentices during the present economic slump, he expected most would accept the increases.
He said low pay had traditionally been a problem in getting apprentices to continue in their trades.
“Kids tend to be short-sighted and do not look at their long-term prospects,” Mr Main said.
He said the pay rises could enhance interest in trades and increase the number of apprentices.
Westvic Staffing Solutions assistant group training manager Brendan Hawkins said the present industry downturn meant Westvic had a handful of apprentices to place with host employers.
“However we are still confident we can place them,” he said.
Mr Hawkins said the number of apprentices returned to Westvic by host employers because of the downturn was less than anticipated.
“We are hanging in there,” he said.
The ETU said the apprentice pay system was a remnant of the 1950s when those learning a trade were teenagers still living at home with their parents.
Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks said rates had not kept pace with shifting demographics which showed more than a quarter of today’s apprentices were over 25.
“When a first-year apprentice is earning just over half the pay of a worker at a fast-food restaurant, there’s no surprise that many are forced to drop out of their training,” Mr Hicks said.