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Full text of "ERIC ED528498: Attrition in the Trades. Research Overview. Monograph Series 07/2011"

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As Australia emerges from the global financial crisis, the spotlight 
is focused on the labour market and its capacity to cope with 
skills shortages. Of particular interest are the trades, which are 
especially sensitive to economic cycles. 

Discussion of skill shortages immediately focuses on whether 
the training system produces sufficient tradespersons. But 
there is another aspect: the rate at which tradespersons leave 
their occupation. 

Attrition in the trades, by Tom Karmel, Patrick Lim and Josie Misko, 
analyses whether attrition - the gradual reduction or weakening 
of a workforce - occurs more amongst tradespeople than 
professionals, and if this is to the detriment of the supply of 
tradespeople.The authors use data from the Australian Labour 
Mobility Survey in 2008 and 1 994.This provides a useful 
comparison because in 2008 the labour market was in a good 
state - but the economic crisis was on the horizon - but in 
1 994 times were much tougherTo gauge the level of attrition 
in the trades and professions, Karmel, Lim and Misko look at 
movement within occupations (job mobility) and between 
occupations (occupational mobility). Obviously for industry 
planning and policy, occupational mobility is more significant, 
because it goes to the heart of occupational labour supply. 

The authors' analysis of the Australian Labour Mobility Survey 
reveals some interesting points: for example, when workers 
leave a job, it may be for positive reasons; they have got a better 
or more highly paid job within the same occupation.This is an 
example of what is known as job ‘churn’ and tends to happen 
when the economy is going through a good patch and so was 
more prevalent in 2008. It may be a problem for employers, 
but is not really one for the occupation as a whole. When the 
economic climate is tough, workers are more likely to lose their 
jobs than leave them; here, tradespeople are revealed to be 
more vulnerable than their professional counterparts. 

So why do the authors compare the trades with professions? 
Karmel and colleagues explain that the two areas make a useful 
comparison because both types of occupation tend to provide 
people with a sense of their identity; both result in qualifications 
or credentials; and both require long periods of preparation. 

This overview is based on the research report, Attrition in the trades b/Tom Karmel, Patrick Lim and Josie Misko. 
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Attrition in the trades 


However; the authors have to make some allowances in 
their study. Because the trades (and the traditional trades in 
particular) are so male-dominated, they don’t include women. 
And if they did a straight comparison between trades and 
professions, this wouldn't show the variations in a person's 
age or how long they had been in their job. A meaningful 
comparison needs to look at people of similar age and length of 
tenure, and what the probability is of them leaving their position. 
But to look at the trades as a whole, it is vital that we know how 
long a person has been in a particular occupation, not just a job. 
The Labour Mobility Survey doesn't provide this information 
and this leaves the authors with a problem. 

They tackle this by splitting the analysis in two, and finding 
that the sum of the two parts makes for a fairly revealing 
whole. First they look at job mobility, because the survey does 
give us information on both the worker's age and how long 
they've been in their job.Then they control for occupational 
mobility - and for this they only have the information about a 
person's age. Within this occupational movement, they focus 
on gross attrition, which looks at the rate at which people 
leave an occupation. 

What is the result of the analysis: are the trades more likely to 
lose their workers in comparison with professions? In the end, the 
answer seems to be ‘no’. When it comes to job and occupational 
mobility, the trades and professions are not actually that different. 
On average, 1 0% of both professionals and tradespeople will 
leave their occupations within the year Interestingly, the analysis 
shows that this was true both in 1 994 and 2008, so the economic 
climate makes little difference to the attrition rate. 

Karmel and colleagues were surprised by some of their findings: 
they expected attrition among tradespeople to be more of an 
issue than it is.This is not to say the attrition rate couldn’t be 
improved, but the comparison with attrition among professionals 
didn’t provide the obvious disparity they expected. It is possible 

© National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 201 I 

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This document should be attributed as Wilson, S 20 1 I , Attrition in the trades - 
overview, NCVER. 

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evaluating and communicating research and statistics about vocational education 
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that the perception of skills shortages might be influenced by the 
amount of job churn that occurs within the occupation, rather 
than individuals dropping out of the trades altogether 

Within each group there is, of course, a great deal of variation, 
but the distributions - similar age, similar length of time in job 
— have a lot in common. For example, within the professions, 
the likelihood of a 30-year-old leaving a job within 1 2 months 
ranges from I 3% to 25%, whereas in the trades - for the same 
age group and time - it ranges from 1 7% to 3 I %. 

Similarly, the rate of leaving an occupation varies, but the 
rate of attrition for those in the trades doesn't stand out as a 
cause for concern.The trade with the highest rate for 25-year- 
olds is skilled animal and horticultural workers (I 3%), while 
construction trade workers have a very low level of attrition 
(7%). As a comparison, legal, social and welfare professionals 
have a fairly high attrition rate of 27%, with health professionals 
the lowest at 7%. 

The authors also take a hypothetical group of 1 00 people and 
track them over certain points of their career for 25 years. After 
1 5 years in virtually every occupation across both the trades 
and the professions, there is less than 50% of the original group 
left. The results are astoundingly uniform between occupations 
within both the trades and professions.There is also the 
question ofwhetherthe trades deserve more recognition 
as a stepping-off point for other careers and this meets with 
patchy results: it seems that only the most highly skilled trade - 
electro-technology and telecommunications - tends to lead to 
a managerial or professional job. 

The authors conclude that the focus on commencement and 
completion rates for apprenticeships is warranted - that the 
problem of attrition in the trades is more one of perception 
than reality. 

NCVER’s inhouse research and evaluation program undertakes projects which 
are strategic to the VET sector.These projects are developed and conducted by 
NCVER’s research staff and are funded by NCVER. This research aims to improve 
policy and practice in the VET sector 

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and Workplace Relations