Apprentice electricians Semon Modra and Steven Black in Mackay.
Apprentice electricians Semon Modra and Steven Black in Mackay. Peter Holt

Battle of skills

ELECTRICIAN David Griffiths has spent 10 years investing time and money into training apprentices only to watch them be lured away by $100,000 carrots in the mining industry.

Mr Griffiths, of DR and D Electrical has trained up to nine apprentices since starting his business a decade ago but only three have stayed on with him after completing their training.

He and other small trade-based businesses are fed up trying to compete with an industry which can afford to offer higher wages and which, they say, isn't putting enough back into training.

"Our optimum field staff level requires four tradesmen, three apprentices and one tech assistant to provide adequate service to our Mackay-based client base," Mr Griffiths said.

"So we have 37% of our field staff as trainees, all, it appears to feed the resource sector.

"The resource sector is a hungry beast when it comes to personnel; perhaps they would be more respected and would be more of a friendly neighbour if they assisted to address these issues and provided for their own trained staff, as do the rest of the commercial community."

Mining giant BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) said they are increasing the amount of apprenticeship positions on their sites.

"BMA has a long-standing commitment to training its own apprentices and trainees," a BMA spokeswoman said.

"The number of new apprentices and trainees we employ annually has increased over the past few years."

In 2011 BMA offered 104 apprentice positions and next year BMA expects to take an intake of around 120 positions.

Mr Griffith's business receives government subsidies but it is a financial burden on the business to train staff who later leave.

"We tell our apprentices if they pass all of their subjects then we will pay for their TAFE courses," he said.

"It's a good incentive for them to keep passing their subjects."

He also said it is difficult to fill tradesmen positions at the moment.

"We will put an ad out for an electrician and weeks will go by and we will only get a few replies," he said.

Although the pay is higher for electricians in the resource sector, Mr Griffiths said local business offer employers the chance to stay at home and have a better quality of life.

"One of my workers has a wife and kids, if he wants to take an hour off to watch his kids play sport it isn't a problem," he said.