According to Master Builders Association of Victoria , new figures from the Victorian Government’s latest training market report show a significant downturn in the number of Victorians involved in construction industry apprenticeships. Construction apprenticeships declined 5.7% last year, from 26,200 in 2011 to 24,700.

While the construction industry is a leading provider of quality career paths across the state, this dramatic drop would mean that opportunities are being closed to many young Victorians, says Executive Director Brian Welch. Activity in many sectors of the industry has been drying up, leading to this apprenticeship decline for many vital trades such as carpentry, bricklaying and electrical.

The sharp drop in apprentice numbers came on top of significant job losses across the sector, with 13,000 fewer jobs as at November 2012 compared to the previous year. Mr Welch attributes these trends to lower investment in homebuilding and other sectors of the industry. Given the challenges faced by industry, unions are making matters worse by calling for large increases in apprentice pay rates that cannot be afforded by the small businesses hiring the majority of apprentices.

The ACTU and CFMEU have called for a 33% increase to first year apprentice training base wages and an 18.3% rise for second year base wages.

Mr Welch observes that an apprenticeship is a great way to learn and earn, but union pay calls would threaten up to 12,000 construction apprenticeships across the country. Though the construction industry would like to welcome more young people into its fold, the failure to train enough people in the sector could worsen the current skills shortages resulting in a rise in future construction costs.

Small businesses that employ up to 70% of all construction apprentices would be forced to bear most of the additional $390 million in industry costs the union pay claim is projected to add.