The common word you're no longer allowed to say
DON'T call them tradies. Or even builders. In a bid to stop the country's crippling trade shortage, the construction industry is giving itself a makeover to help win over the apprehensive mums and dads of budding apprentices - hence their new label, "professionals".
And because their hands-on skills are in such demand, these young Aussies with building certificates are attracting starting salaries of up to $140,000 - but Mum's still not convinced. Yet.
"There are a number of reasons why young people aren't coming in to the building industry or taking up a trade, and that's because Mum and Dad want their kids to go to uni," Brian Seidler, NSW executive director of Master Builders Australia (MBA), told news.com.au.
"Mum is usually the one who has the influence, so we really have to make the industry more attractive to young people and emphasise that a trade can lead to you being a professional.
"They are not tradies or even builders now - they are professionals."
GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
Mr Seidler said the booming construction industry was working hard to combat a decline in apprentices - in particular carpenters, bricklayers and boilermakers.
From next year, the MBA will launch a pilot study program with six western Sydney schools in areas like Blacktown, Rooty Hill and Colyton, that will offer pre-apprenticeship classes as part of the curriculum.
"We had a 55 per cent dropout rate in apprenticeships in the first six months and one of the biggest triggers was because they couldn't do the maths at TAFE, so we are introducing 'Maths in Trade' hopefully at the start of next year," he said.
He also said that career advisers within schools weren't pushing the building industry, so the MBA now had two full-time career advisers who were currently visiting up to 40 schools a month to talk to students.
"The young one's expectation of what the industry is - that's also a problem," Seidler told news.com.au.
"It's often not their first choice. They don't like the hard work or the physical side.
"But those who successfully complete a trade will set themselves up because there is a trade shortage and an ageing population in the building industry, where the average age is 41."
GETTING PAST MUM AND DAD - BY GOING TO UNI
Last month the MBA also launched a pilot program with universities and the NSW government, bridging the gap between university and TAFE. Seidler said the MBA now had a relationship with four unis so if their trade was successfully completed, that would be recognised as one year off a bachelor's degree.
"Mum and Dad want their children to go to university, and the stats are now showing that the majority of people who do uni drop out in their first year, and out of those who are left, the majority don't necessarily find work in their studied field," he said.
"So we have launched a pilot program where if you want to go to uni, you can go via a trade.
"You can do a trade and then you can also do a diploma or advanced diploma in building."
Will Peters, 28, from Sydney's east, knows the best of both worlds. He did two years of construction management at uni before deciding he needed hands-on experience, so moved to online study and completed his building apprenticeship at the same time.
He is now a project manager for a Fortune 500 project development company and said starting at a commercial construction company, a recent graduate would get over $100,000.
"The boys are paid really well - I don't think people realise how well."
It was the stigma that had to go, he said.
"I definitely feel there is a stigma attached to having a trade - people think that if you've gone to TAFE then you've failed - when actually the opposite is true.
"You learn things you just can't get from a book. It's just a different learning path."
HANGING FRAMES, OPENING DOORS
Ashley Schulz, 21, from Sutherland in Sydney's south, will finish her four-year carpentry apprenticeship in March - and has been the only woman in her classes, and on site.
"I love it because it's hands-on and doing physical activity," she said. "I've been the only girl in all of my classes. I thought it would be worse, but the guys are really helpful.
"I love going to TAFE and learning things you can't learn on site, and the other way around."
Named this year's Fourth Year Apprentice of The Year at the recent MBA NSW Awards, Ms Schulz has just finished her builder's course and wants to work her way up to being a foreman and then project manager.
"When I was at high school a lady from Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen came to my high school promoting women in trades," she said.
"She helped me a lot to guide me to the path to get there because no one in my family has a trade.
"My mum knew all along that I was hands-on and they were very supportive of me.
"I do get funny looks when I walk on site and I hope we do get more women."
BUILDING A FUTURE
The Productivity Commission recently released a report which found that one in five university qualified young Australians can't get a full-time job in their chosen field.
According to exclusive figures obtained by news.com.au, a third of pupils aged 25-60 studying at TAFE'S St Leonards campus on Sydney's north shore had already obtained a university degree. So had 34 per cent of those studying at Hornsby and 29 per cent of pupils at Ryde and Campbelltown.
"TAFE NSW offers more than 1200 courses and 85 per cent of our graduates are employed or in further education within six months of completion," said TAFE NSW managing director Jon Black.
He said TAFE was also collaborating with universities to help address the skills shortage in NSW.
"University, like technical skills training at TAFE, plays an important role in our nation's economy and TAFE studies can add to the theory-based education university provides."
Assistant Minister for Skills Adam Marshall said satisfaction rates among employers for TAFE graduates was 96 per cent.