August 22, 2018 / News
As the landscape of work changes in Australia and the number of electrical trades apprentices plummet, there has been a notable shortage of electricians in the industry. According to the Department of Jobs and Small Business, this shortage is particularly pronounced in New South Wales' Metropolitan areas and Western Australia's Regional areas.
Electricians are fast becoming one of the most sought after trades workers due to the wide applicability of their skills. Electricians/electrical trades workers are common fixtures on construction sites, civil and rail sites, commercial sites, offices and residential buildings, etc. Basically, wherever there is electrical equipment and systems, an electrician will be required to perform installations, maintenance work, and repairs.
The recent boom in construction and civil sites in both regional and urban Australia, has further emphasised the disparity between the jobs available for electrical trades workers, and the number of electricians available to fill the positions. Companies are clawing for electricians to work on their sites and are even employing the use of labour hire agencies to source workers on their behalf. The scarcity of electricians in the market, and the heightened demand created by the construction boom means that once an electrician is secured, they often enjoy relatively stable work.
If the shortage of people qualified to carry out electrical work continues or worsens, it can have a significant impact on future developments and impede progress. This is because the skills that qualified electrical trades workers possess are essential for the completion of projects in a timely manner. The shortage means longer wait times, with electricians inundated by the available work.
The shortage of electrical trades workers may also affect Australia's rising renewable energy industry.
The increasing energy demands of Australia's growing population and the emergence of more renewable energy farms across the country, will further increase the demand for electrical trades workers.
The Clean Energy Council has estimated that 5,500 jobs will be created to complete the 50 wind and solar projects that are currently taking place, or in the pipelines. Electrical workers will comprise a significant portion of these jobs as their work will be required at all stages, including when it becomes fully operational. However, there is insufficient qualified and skilled talent available to facilitate the completion of these renewable projects.
This may hamper Australia's renewable energy boom and subsequently delay the achievement of various renewable energy targets.
Renewable energy is undoubtedly the future, but it is important that we have the workers now to help ensure that this future is realised.
Combatting The Shortage
To prevent the number of electrical trades workers from dropping further, action needs to be taken now to increase the attractiveness of the industry, encourage more young people to take up an apprenticeship and persuade businesseses to provide opportunities for these electrical trades apprentices.
A multi-pronged approach needs to be taken to ensure that meaningful change occurs and more electrical trades workers enter the market to help keep up with the rising demand.
One of the main reasons why there has been a drop in electrical trades, as well as trades in general, is the stigma surrounding this field which deters young people from pursuing vocational education and training (VET). Trades are often perceived to provide poor job security and lower wages than roles that require a university degree. However, this is not necessarily the case. As discussed earlier, electrical workers are experiencing an overwhelming amount of work and won't be in-between roles any time soon. Even without the current shortage, electrical trades are a fairly safe bet, as their services will always be required due to the ubiquity of electrical systems. There is ample work for electrical workers and the relative job stability makes it an appealing industry to enter if you seek longevity in your career.
In regards to the misconception that trades workers receive low pay, even though electrical apprentices may initially earn a humble wage, this doesn't last for long. As they progress through their apprenticeship and gain more skills and experiences, their pay increases accordingly. Then once they become fully qualified, electrical workers can make a very good living since they are some of the best paid tradespeople.
Another hurdle deterring people from pursuing electrical trades, is the hesitation on the part of businesses to offer apprenticeships.
Businesses are often reluctant to provide apprenticeship opportunities, as the beginning stages often require a lot of supervision and may not be financially equipped to provide higher wages as the apprentice progresses. Often these businesses can hire a contractor for a similar wage, that won't require any guidance, if at all.
More needs to be done to encourage businesses to provide electrical apprenticeship opportunities, so they don't consistently lose out to contractors. Currently, there is an Incentives Programme that provides employers with a bonus depending on the field and stage of the apprenticeship. To see the full incentives programme, click here.
Further financial assistance could be provided to help businesses, in particular small businesses, with the wage of the apprentice, as well as the equipment and resources required to train them.
This will help improve the availability of electrical trades apprenticeships and boost the numbers of qualified electrical trades workers.
The shortage of electricians in Australia has emerged from a combination of factors, including the mass retirement of qualified electrical workers, the lack of new entrants in the industry, and the boom in projects demanding this specialised skill set. In order to ensure that this shortage isn't prolonged further, action needs to be taken now to expand this workforce, bridge the gap and facilitate the smooth delivery of projects.
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