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News News Skills gap as trainees quit for big bucks
ABOUT half of all apprentices are dropping out of their training, lured by bigger pay packets or disappointed by the lack of support in their programs.

Only 50.8 per cent of apprentices and trainees completed their programs between 1996 and 2006, and the figure was even lower in trades, clerical, service and sales work and labour occupations, according to research by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

The money being offered to young workers, particularly in the mining industry, was often a key factor, said Peter Kell, an associate professor in adult education at Wollongong University.

Apprentices were earning less than $10 an hour, while they could be earning $80,000 a year driving a truck for a mining company, Dr Kell said.

"One of the problems has been that most of the incentives have gone to employers - and governments should be congratulated for that, but what they need to look at is greater incentives to supplement wages for apprentices," Dr Kell said.

Science, building and engineering professionals were the most likely to complete their courses, with 71 per cent of those who started their courses finishing them, the report found.

But only a third of people training as cooks completed their courses, and just over 40 per cent of hairdressers, sales and clerical workers.

Sandra Pattison, the general manager of the research centre, said that even though the completion rate had dropped, more people were finishing apprenticeships than in the past simply because there were more people doing them.

The centre calculated that 141,500 people completed their training last year.

"Over the past 10 years, the actual number who have completed an apprenticeship or traineeship has gone up a great deal," Ms Pattison said.

Since 1985, 17.5 million people have started traineeships but only 650,000 have completed them, according to NCVER research published last year.

"This is why you have to be very careful when governments talk about the number of people who commence a traineeship, because what we really need to look at is the number of people who have completed," said John Spierings, a research strategist with the Dusseldorp Skills Forum.

The improved wage subsidies that have been promised by the Federal Government would help employers retain apprentices, Dr Spierings said. "But the comparative wages for apprentices are still relatively low and until that's remedied, we're going to find it increasingly difficult to hold people in apprenticeships," he said.

The problem for restaurants and catering businesses was not that there were not enough trained cooks, but that not enough of them wanted to accept the low pay and conditions in the industry, said a labour market analyst, Bob Kinnaird.

The Federal Government's decision to import cooks from overseas perpetuated the problem, Mr Kinnaird said.

"That helps keep the wage levels in those industries low, so it's a vicious circle."


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