Attrition in the trades

By Tom Karmel, Patrick Lim, Josie Misko Research report 7 November 2011 ISBN 978 1 921955 50 1 print; 978 1 921955 49 5 web  ·  ISSN 1837-0659


This report investigates attrition in the trades by comparing the rate at which tradespeople leave their occupation with that of professionals. It also determines whether attrition is influenced by economic conditions, and if a trade can provide a good start to a career in the professions. The report concludes that attrition in the trades is no higher than in the professions; the rate of leaving particular occupations may vary, but overall the results between the two are very similar. The economic climate also makes little difference to the attrition rate.


About the research

Shortages in the trades are again becoming a prominent issue as Australia emerges from the Global Financial Crisis. The existence of shortages puts the immediate focus on the apparent inability of the training system to supply sufficient skilled tradespersons, but shortages in an occupation are as much related to the rate at which individuals leave the occupation as the rate at which the occupation attracts new entrants. Hence, this paper which focuses on attrition in the trades, using professional occupations as comparators. The analysis is restricted to males in order to abstract from the impact that family responsibilities have on women’s labour mobility, noting that the trades are dominated by men, apart from hairdressing and, to a lesser extent, the food trades.

While attrition has a negative connotation, it may be positive for the individuals leaving a trade if they are moving to something better. Thus, by looking at the occupations ex-tradespersons move to, the paper also examines whether a trade offers a good start to a career.

Key messages

  • Job and occupational mobility in the trades is not particularly different from that experienced in the professions, although there is considerable variation across the trades (and across the professions).

  • The rate of attrition in the trades is remarkably similar in good times and in bad times, although the balance between job losers and job leavers is affected by economic conditions. However, job churn within a trade is higher in good times, and this gives the impression to employers that attrition is higher.

  • The one trade occupation that stands out as good foundation for a future career is electrotechnology and communications.

The results of the paper bring us full circle. It seems that we should not be overly concerned about attrition in the trades when addressing skills shortages. Thus it is the output of the training system that should be the immediate focus and this puts the spotlight back on the commencement and completion rates of apprenticeships.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER


2420 .pdf 1.5 MB Download
2420 .docx 180.5 KB Download

Related items

This overview provides a discussion about the report ‘Attrition in the trades’, and concludes that t… Show more

In this 9 minute interview, Steve Davis talks with Tom Karmel about the report 'Attrition in the tra… Show more