Illawarra apprentices who finish year 12 are set to lose out on jobs to early school leavers, a Wollongong training professional has claimed.
Fusion Training Solutions CEO Andrew Park has voiced concerns over a recent Fair Work Commission decision, approving a pay rise for junior apprentices who complete high school.
He fears the move will punish apprentices who finished year 12, blocking them from getting jobs as employers turn to cheaper early school leavers instead.
"I think employers will look at their annual costs and the difference in hiring a kid who finished year 11 or a kid who stayed on and finished year 12 and go with the cheapest option," he said.
"These kids could literally be the same age, have the same access to transport and training but the only difference would be one went to school for six months longer."
Mr Park believes the decision provides a disincentive for people to finish their education, encouraging dozens of budding Illawarra apprentices to leave school early and enter an already-saturated job market.
"It's very hard and very competitive in this region," he said.
"Years ago, people would change apprenticeships, knowing they could always get something at the steelworks.
"Now, you've got one kid applying for his 100th job; we had a plumber in Kiama looking for an apprentice and he had 400 applications, so it is really tough out there."
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has also weighed into the debate, labelling the pay rise "short-sighted" as it does not apply to those already in a training program or apprenticeship.
Mr Park agreed there should have been a more holistic approach.
"I think it's great for apprentices to get a pay rise ... but I wish it had been applied across the board, this is really punishing those kids who finish year 12," he said.
"There are already enough barriers to kids getting employment; we have a generation ... at home doing nothing and without that support from the government and businesses, it's not going to change.
"We just want businesses to get behind these kids and take them on; it would have been great for all apprentices to get a pay rise, not one category of kids."