Bendigo building apprenticeships declining, call for next generation to build our city

CITY BOOM: Bendigo is set to expand dramatically over the next 20 years, but how much local labour will help build the city.
CITY BOOM: Bendigo is set to expand dramatically over the next 20 years, but how much local labour will help build the city.

Bendigo is a growing city.

Estimates vary on how many people may decide to call the region home over the next 20-30 years, but how many ‘locals’ will help build the pools Bendigonians swim in, the kindergartens our children play in, or the monuments we reflect in?

Builder Gerard House is unsure. 

Mr House has been building in Bendigo for 40 years, but the past few years have, in his opinion, experienced significant change. 

The dearth of young local people interested in building was becoming more apparent, said Mr House, managing director of East Bendigo building company Gerard K House Pty Ltd.

‘Interested’ was a word repeated by Mr House, who believed a youngster’s understanding of the industry was critical to longevity. 

I've had a direct involvement with apprentices for 30 years and it’s hard getting people into training and keeping them there

Builder Gerard House

“I've had a direct involvement with apprentices for 30 years and it’s hard getting people into training and keeping them there,” he said.

“There's very few apprentices around.” 

The perceived reluctance to take up the tools stemmed from a number of factors, according to Mr House.

Attitudes toward trades may be bred in the classroom, he said, but a driving factor was also the dollars. 

“There's more money to be made initially stacking shelves but with the continuity of employment the money soon overruns those things,” he said. 

What’s local?

The structure of the building industry from the top down was a concern for Mr House, who referenced some of the City of Greater Bendigo’s recent procurement decisions – where contracts were awarded to out of town builders. 

The $4.2 million Soldiers Memorial Institute restoration is the latest example of a contract won by a non-local builder.

Mr House questioned what long-term benefits this would provide to the region.

“We need to train people for the future of our community,” he said.

Nicholson Construction is renovating the Soldiers Memorial Institute and its managing director Dean Stevens said only two jobs were not being done by local companies, but they required specialist skills not available in Bendigo.

The Ballarat-based company has a number of large ongoing construction projects in Bendigo, all of which, Mr Stevens said, had a requirement for a number of apprentices to be on site.

ON THE TOOLS: Apprenticeships in the Bendigo building industry have dropped considerably since 2016, according to the leading apprenticeship provider in the region CVGT.

ON THE TOOLS: Apprenticeships in the Bendigo building industry have dropped considerably since 2016, according to the leading apprenticeship provider in the region CVGT.

Mr Stevens said the biggest challenge with apprentices was getting people to finish.

“I don’t feel as though there’s a shortage of them (young tradespeople), I don’t think it’s a old persons occupation,” he said.

“I wonder whether the cycle is turning a bit.”

City of Greater Bendigo governance manager Jessica Clarke-Hong said as part of the tender documentation, companies are asked to provide a percentage breakdown of four items to demonstrate ‘local content’, which has a weighting of 10 per cent.

“Tenderers must sign a tenderer’s declaration when they make their submission. City officers will investigate further when there is reason to believe the content of the submission may not be accurate,” she said.

Ms Hong said council always sought the best value for the ratepayer when evaluating tenders, including cost, local content, efficiency and quality, but suggested there was no council policy that required a certain amount of apprentices to work on council-awarded projects.

“However council where appropriate includes in tender documentation a social procurement schedule that relates to apprentices,” she said.

The region’s leading apprenticeship provider, CVGT, described the past 18 months as a “journey”.

Demand for building apprenticeships locally, and nationally, had outstripped supply for a long time, but CVGT chief executive officer Paul Green said the situation had started to change.

“In the middle of last year there was some challenges around,” said Mr Green, referencing the high number of apprenticeship vacancies locally.

“Since then we've had a positive move in this direction and there’s a lot more interest,” he said.

CVGT has just six apprenticeship vacancies, four of which are related to the building industry.

In January 2016, 92 apprentices were working in the Bendigo building industry, that number dropped to 62 the following year and sat at 67 in January 2018. 

Mr Green said the peak in 2016 was due to the building of the Bendigo and St John of God hospital projects, while the resurgence this year can be attributed to a range of new domestic and commercial projects undertaken in Bendigo.

Bendigo TAFE chief executive officer Trevor Schwenke said the organisation has always been a starting contact point for both apprentice candidates and employers. 

“Our new apprentice training advisors work to match the right candidate and employer much like any standard recruitment process,” he said.