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NT apprenticeship dropouts attributable to heat stress

Heat Stress Apprentice NT

Extreme heat is causing Northern Australian apprentices to drop out of their training program in greater numbers than their southern counterparts, according to Charles Darwin University (CDU) Fellow, Dr Don Zoellner

After analysing more than 20 years of apprenticeship data, Dr Zoellner and his colleagues concluded that northern Australia’s hot and humid temperatures are a clear factor in apprentice non-completion rates.

“About 58 per cent of the 105,000 trade apprenticeships that have commenced above the Tropic of Capricorn since 1994 have not progressed to completion,” Dr Zoellner said.

Australia-wide, the figure is quite different.

Dr Zoellner said that of the 4.8 million training contracts that had commenced in the past 21 years, around 45 per cent, or 2.2 million had resulted in cancellations or withdrawals.

The research also found that a disproportionate number of dropouts occur in the fourth quarter of the year, when northern Australia experiences its hotter, more humid weather.

“The pattern is not as evident for southern Australia and does not apply to traineeships that are carried out mostly indoors,” Dr Zoellner said.

The research paper states that statistical analysis identified a clear difference in trade occupation’s cancellations and withdrawals.

Zoellner added that multiple reviews into the shortfalls of the training system had never made the connection between heat stress and apprenticeship dropout rates.

He attributed the findings to the cross-disciplinary approach of the research team which included thermal physiologist, Dr Matt Brearly (who has previously written for THORZT) and human geographer Dr Elspeth Oppermann, both also of CDU.

“[It was] our choice to look beyond state boundaries that made visible what previous observers had not seen in the ‘big data’ collected by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).”

Heat stress significant to economic development

Dr Zoellner added that their findings are significant to the economic development of northern Australia, which relies heavily upon tradespeople that exert themselves outdoors in extreme conditions.

Apprenticeship completions contribute to socio-economic growth and the public policy agenda of northern development, the paper says.

Apprenticeship dropouts also impact businesses directly, as does having workers who are suffering from heat stress, which negatively affects both safety and productivity.

Hot conditions expected to increase:

The findings are also a cause for concern if the warming in northern Australia continues as anticipated, Dr Zoellner said.

The Bureau of Meterology predicts that Australian temperatures will continue increasing, with more extremely hot days and fewer extremely cool days. This will see an increase in the amount of people going beyond their capacity to withstand the heat.

Better heat stress education and awareness is required to ensure people are prepared for extreme heat events.

Training and policy

Workplaces must implement heat stress training and mitigation strategies and be provided with the tools to manage or minimise heat stress, according to Dr Matt Brearly, one of the study’s authors.

“It can be as simple as discussing the issue with the workforce and as detailed as individual testing of responses to working in the heat,” he said, adding that testing can play a key role in preventing heat stress among workers.

For a detailed guide to managing heat stress in the workplace, download THORZT’s guide here.