Trad­ing places

A trades ca­reer is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity at a time when de­mand for their skills is high. Ca­reerOne Edi­tor Cara Jenkin re­ports.

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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.’’

Pic­ture: CALUM ROBERT­SON

Black­smith Christo­pher Smith works the age-old trade of sculpt­ing iron at the Old Ade­laide Gaol.

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