Don’t knock a trade ’til you try it, Me­lanie Burgess writes


PER­SIS­TENT: It was a case of third time lucky for heavy ve­hi­cle me­chanic Christo­pher Knight when it came to get­ting an ap­pren­tice­ship. Pic­ture: TONY PHILLIPS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

MORE Aus­tralians are un­der­stand­ing the ap­peal of a trade ca­reer, with in­creas­ing num­bers pur­su­ing these lines of work. Al­most 75,000 peo­ple com­menced a trade ap­pren­tice­ship in the 12 months to March 31 – up 4.2 per cent on the previous year, new data from the Na­tional Cen­tre for Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search re­veals.

The in­crease was par­tic­u­larly strong in Tas­ma­nia, where com­mence­ments were up 20 per cent, as well as in Western Aus­tralia (9.9 per cent), South Aus­tralia and New South Wales (each 8.5 per cent).

Re­newed pop­u­lar­ity of trade ca­reers may be the re­sult of strong em­ploy­ment fore­casts for many jobs.

By 2023, Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment data pre­dicts the need for an ex­tra 28,300 food trade work­ers (up 14.2 per cent), 25,800 con­struc­tion trade work­ers (up 6.5 per cent) and 17,800 engi­neer­ing, ICT (in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy) and science tech­ni­cians (up 7.1 per cent).

NECA chief ex­ec­u­tive Suresh Man­ickam says he is pleased the mis­con­cep­tion that trades are a poor ca­reer choice is shift­ing.

“This has dam­aged the prospects of young peo­ple as well as the wider econ­omy,” he says. “We have seen too many peo­ple com­ing out of uni­ver­sity with worth­less de­grees or an over­sup­ply of cer­tain skills, such as law, where there are far more grad­u­ates than op­por­tu­ni­ties in the le­gal pro­fes­sion.”

SEEK salary data re­veals many trades pay more than of­fice jobs, too. Ads for elec­tri­cians and air­con­di­tion­ing and re­frig­er­a­tion tech­ni­cians, for ex­am­ple, of­fer an av­er­age salary of $78,391 and $77,380 on SEEK, re­spec­tively.

This is more than the av­er­age bank worker ($72,400), jour­nal­ist ($69,133) or para­le­gal ($67,225).

Ber­nadette Reynolds, tal­ent and cul­ture man­ager at Pull­man Cairns In­ter­na­tional, says she hopes the next gen­er­a­tion un­der­stands how many great ca­reers do not re­quire a uni­ver­sity de­gree.

“For chefs there is so much op­por­tu­nity out there to be creative, to travel and to move into more se­nior roles,” she says.

“You never know where you will end up – we have lots of trade-qual­i­fied chefs who are now gen­eral man­agers of ho­tels.”

Heavy ve­hi­cle me­chanic Christo­pher Knight is a fi­nal­ist in the Aus­tralian Train­ing Awards af­ter be­ing named a state ap­pren­tice of the year.

He did a Cer­tifi­cate II in Lo­gis­tics be­fore pur­su­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship, but was ini­tially knocked back. “Af­ter three times, I ended up get­ting a job,” he says.

Knight ad­vises any­one con­sid­er­ing a trade that “you have noth­ing to lose and ev­ery­thing to gain”.

He says he is “lov­ing ev­ery step” of work­ing on ac­cess equip­ment, in­clud­ing fork­lifts. “The feel­ing you get when you fix some­thing – you can’t re­ally de­scribe it.”

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