A trades career is growing in popularity at a time when demand for their skills is high. CareerOne Editor Cara Jenkin reports.
MORE South Australian workers than ever are being drawn by high salaries and job vacancies to be employed or trained as a tradie.
Being employed in hands-on work and the lifestyle image of ‘‘a dog and a ute’’ is attracting a new breed of tradespeople to vocations.
National Centre for Vocational Education Research figures show the number of apprentices in trades – ranging from traditional construction and automotive to telecommunications and food – is this year almost double what it was 14 years ago. They show SA’s tradie workforce has increased by more than 3000 people in the same period.
Construction trades have recorded the strongest growth.
That sector’s workforce has in- creased from 16,300 people in 1996 to 24,700 people in 2009.
During that time, the number of apprentices enrolled in the year has increased from 800 to 3200.
Construction Industry Training Board chief executive Steve Larkins says the industry’s workforce is driven by demand.
He says it has expanded in line with increased construction activity in the past decade.
Mr Larkins says the attitudes of young workers also have changed over time and now more want to study a trade than in previous years.
Students who want a more handson learning experience at school are taking part in construction-work placement programs, which is encouraging them into the industry.
‘‘The big thing is that people have realised . . . trades used to be seen as the low end of the economic scale and that’s not the case,’’ Mr Larkins says.
‘‘They have realised very successful people don’t need a university degree – a lot of them have that – but there are a lot of pathways to be successful.
‘‘They see smart-looking utes with confident, young people who have done very well for themselves and it appeals as a career path.’’
Construction workers earn an average wage of $1200.30 a week, while electricity, gas, water and waste services workers earn $1436.10 a week.
Electrotechnology and telecommunications trades have recorded an increased workforce – by 1800 people to 15,500 staff.
The number of workers in training also has dramatically increased, from 300 in 1996 to 2500 last year.
Electrotechnology and Water Skills Board executive officer Anthony Leverenz says there’s more interest in trades from young people compared with five years ago.
He says many workers who were academically focused in study now are turning to trades instead of university.
‘‘We’re finding people who have done first-year science and engineering are jumping ship and coming out to the trades,’’ he says.
Their skills in electronics are highly sought in a range of fields and workers are well paid. But there is a need to upskill current workers to develop more specialised skills.
‘‘It’s one thing to have demand, but it’s good to have supply,’’ Mr Leverenz says. ‘‘We are going to do what we can to build capability to attract staff to keep up with demand and supply.’’
More workers are needed for the fields of refrigeration and airconditioning and to be skilled in electronics for South Australia’s expanding defence sector.
Former engineer Christopher Smith, 65, left the industry 16 years ago to be a blacksmith.
His skill was a hobby for most of his working life, but he decided to make it his day job when made redundant by his last employer.
He now owns Christopher Smith Ironworks, based at Old Adelaide Gaol.
‘‘At the back of my mind, it was always heading that way,’’ he says.
Demand for his decorative ironwork products, such as gates, staircases and tables, has provided him with a secure income.
But the expense of equipment and a lack of permanent, well-paid work means younger workers are reluctant to take up the trade, Mr Smith says.
‘‘I’ve had young blokes who come down and want to work with me, then they go off on their own and inevitably they give it away,’’ he says. ‘‘If you’re doing something you enjoy, you don’t see it as work.
‘‘It’s a hobby and livelihood all rolled into one.’’
Blacksmith Christopher Smith works the age-old trade of sculpting iron at the Old Adelaide Gaol.