Brianna Lazzari left school at 18 before taking up a job in hospitality as a barista. But it wasn’t long before she was bored.
“A lot of the people I was working with stay for their entire lives, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find a career,” she says.
“I would never be able to do a desk job, so I looked into trades.”
Brianna settled on an industry where there’s more work than workers, the electrical trade. She’s now a first-year apprentice with Canberra company Detlev’s Electrical.
“A lot of people come and go, but there’s definitely a shortage of people who want to do it as a long-term career,” she says.
Electricians are among the most in-demand tradespeople in Australia, according to the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). And employers find it difficult to attract suitably qualified and experienced tradespeople.
With growth projected in the construction and infrastructure sectors and a strong uptake in renewable energy, the skills shortages only look likely to worsen.
“Low unemployment rates have meant fewer skilled tradespeople are looking for work, and COVID-19 has led to a decrease in skilled migration which has further reduced the talent pool,” NECA Training and Apprenticeships general manager Tom Emeleus says.
“COVID has also affected international student numbers at Australian universities, which has seen an increase of offers to local students. Many people who would have traditionally undertaken a trade are now receiving university offers and deciding to pursue a different career path.”
Ben Abbot joined Detlev’s in 2018 towards the end of his apprenticeship.
He says the prevailing attitude at school has university pegged as key to a full life.
“But I know first-hand that a lot of my mates have gone to university and started a degree, only to have started an apprenticeship after four years of accruing debt and struggling to get a job.”
Ben went on to “travel the world” after getting his trade certificate and found the skills shortage wasn’t limited to Australia.
“I’ve never failed to find good-paying work, no matter where I was. Every country I’ve been to has had a shortage of skilled tradespeople.”
NECA says the shortage is a “constant cause of stress” for electrical businesses.
“Growing demand for renewable energy skills has also meant a slower rollout of renewable technologies and delays on a considerable number of construction projects,” Tom says.
The ACT Government has recently invested in solar training as part of the Job Trainer scheme. Tom welcomes this in an area where the skills shortage has come down hardest.
“While funding for training courses is an important first step, encouraging people to take on a trade is an equally important piece in addressing this issue,” he says.
“Increasing diversity across the electrical industry would also greatly assist in filling the training places we now have available.
“Removing barriers to female participation in trades, mature-aged apprentices and reopening our borders to skilled migrants is also critical to getting more boots on the ground.”
For Brianna and Ben, there’s no chance of them leaving the industry any time soon.
“I love the variety of work and people, and the social aspect of it – you’re never with the same people every day,” Brianna says.
Ben describes moving to Detlev’s as the “best thing I’ve ever done in my life”.
“I’ve met doctors who have volunteered in Africa, struggling artists, and all sorts of interesting people. I like getting to know them, and finding out how they get through life in their own way.”
Ben plans to move to Perth later this year and start his own electrical company.
Brianna will finish her apprenticeship with Detlev’s before exploring the idea of starting a building company with her older brother, a carpenter by trade.
“People shouldn’t feel bad if they try a trade and don’t like it,” Brianna says.
“When I first started, I didn’t know it was something I really wanted to do. Now I love it.”