Mr Andreas Cebulla (pictured), a senior research fellow at the Flinders-based National Institute of Labour Studies, has begun a year-long study to determine whether low apprenticeship wages are forcing Australian tradies into homelessness and housing instability.
“The social welfare sector claims there has been a recent incidence of homelessness among apprentices and our task is to see whether there is, in fact, a link between the two,” Mr Cebulla said.
“One suggestion is that the low apprentice wage contributes to homelessness but there may be other factors that lead to it, such as relationship breakups, rather than the low pay itself,” he said.
Figures show there are about 35,000 apprentices in South Australia, with apprentices often earning as little as half of what a qualified tradesperson receives in their field.
As part of the Flinders study, funded through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Cebulla will interview training providers, employer organisations and government agencies before conducting a nationwide survey of apprentices.
The research collected through the study will also be used to determine whether there is a link between homelessness and the high drop-out rate among apprentices.
“One theory is that apprenticeships pay little and housing is expensive so, eventually, apprentices can’t maintain their homes and when that happens they can’t maintain their jobs either,” he said.
“We don’t yet know whether there’s a link between the two but what we do know is that a lot of apprentices drop out when they realise their wages won’t increase much once they’re fully qualified.
“Electricians and plumbers will usually make up what they lost through their apprenticeship very quickly but on the other hand apprentices in the services industry, in particular food preparation and hairdressing, find that once they complete their course, their wages are not much higher than what they would have been had they not gone through the apprenticeship.
“Many apprentices live on the poverty line so once they find out there’s no real benefit at the end they drop out.”
Findings of the study are expected to be released early next year.