New program may help energy sector keep up with demand

THE traditional sparkie apprenticeship has a 40% drop-out rate and the skills body for Australia's energy sector fears an electrician shortage in the near future.

But E-Oz Energy Skills Australia says a new pilot program should help the industry keep up with the demand, spurred by clean energy developments, mining construction and technology advancements.

The organisation believes the program will result in "far better retention rates" and is calling on Queensland's electricians to help avoid a statewide sparkie shortage by taking on fresh apprentices.

To be eligible for the program, apprentices must pass a national aptitude assessment which the industry had verified. Instead of being time-based, apprentices can progress based on competency.

Chief Bob Taylor said electrician employment had grown at almost three times the rate of the national workforce but the pressure on the training system with projected contract completions falling over by more than 10% since 2006.

"Employers are understandably wary about taking on apprentices when there is such a high chance that they will not complete their training," he said.

"Passing the national aptitude assessment means employers can feel confident that the apprentices they take on are up for the challenge and ready to learn and be successful.

"That's a significant difference to the current approach.

"Mount Isa Mines' Xstrata electrical team leader Kerry Brisbane said allowing competent apprentices to progress faster meant the company could fulfil the need for skilled tradespeople within its mining and processing operations.

Sunshine Coast TAFE in Nambour has signed up to participate in the program.

The TAFE's engineering head Phil Evans said employers would undoubtedly find it more attractive to take on apprentices.

"Because of the readiness test, employers will be able to offer an apprenticeship to applicants who already demonstrate an aptitude for mathematical thinking, which is essential for the trade," he said.

"I believe this pilot really raises the bar for quality training in the electrical industry."


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