Recent discussions with visitors to last month’s DesignBuild expo raised some interesting points – good and bad – about the future of apprenticeships in the cabinetmaking and joinery trades.

The joinery shop owners we talked to were worried about the declining number of apprentices, and the shortage of skills we’ll soon be suffering as a consequence. One long-time cabinetmaker claimed that ‘everyone wants to go to Uni now’, and those that don’t aren’t keen to hang around for the length of a trade apprenticeship.

The data seems to reflect this: despite some fairly enthusiastic efforts by various levels of government to increase the uptake of apprenticeships and traineeships, numbers in most states continue to decline. In contrast, university participation rates are on the rise, as are the numbers of young people moving directly into the labour market. What’s really concerning, though, is that those that do enter an apprenticeship directly out of school have a pretty low chance of finishing their time, with just over half collecting a trade certificate.

So how do we get more interest in apprenticeships – from both employers and employees? And how do we get good staff to stay on board until they complete their apprenticeship?

At Pytha Partners Australia, we’re coming in to contact with more and more apprentices as PYTHA training is rolled out at TAFE Institutes in Sydney and Melbourne. Whether they’re fresh out of school and still in learning mode, or a little more ‘worldly’ and looking to upskill, the students may have more to offer employees than we’re giving them credit for, and we’re wondering if a different approach to using the in-built skills of industry newbies may create a win-win for all parties:

Tech Knowledge and Know-How

While the practical abilities of manufacturing will always be of value, there is no doubt that advances in technology are changing the cabinetry and joinery trades from the design stage right through to manufacture. Tech-savvy school leavers are willing and able to pick up new software, and with some out-of-work additional training, they could add a reasonably low-cost edge to your operations. If you have a young apprentice who’s getting ‘itchy feet’, why not encourage them to add some software certificates to their toolbelt (and a little diversity to their role)? And if you’re ready to build your business with some new apprentices, consider marketing your position as a role that’s both practical AND technical; you could get some more well-rounded applicants.

Adult Apprentices

Do you have a technical guru in your design or drafting team that could do with some practical knowledge? If they have the right attitude and a good work ethic, some time on the tools could be a good long-term investment. Or perhaps you could work with the existing skillset of a new mature-age apprentice applicant? Did you know that adult apprentices now represent 28% of all trade apprentices in training? Unlike their younger counterparts, adult apprentices have a higher and steadily increasing rate of completion, too, so your efforts may be more likely to bear fruit. You may even find you’re eligible for some good employer incentives to take on a mature-age apprentice.

Do you have some apprentices in your team? What skills do they bring to the workshop, or what do you feel they’re lacking? How do you think the industry could improve intake and retention of apprentices? Share your thoughts below…