Apprentices at Risk – The Impact of Exposure to Workplace Bullying

Earlier this year, Griffith University released the results of a study completed for Mates in Construction exploring the impact of bullying on apprentices in the Queensland construction industry and it’s impact on their mental health and suicide ideation. The results make for sobering reading.

The study, based on the results from 1483 responses from industry apprentices, reported that 27% had experienced workplace bullying in a 12 month period. On top of that, of those who had experienced bullying, 54% also report experiencing suicidal thoughts. However, the report stopped short of causality, so it is unclear how the two might be linked.

However, the overall figure of 27% is extremely high when compared to the 2014/15 Australian Barometer Report. This report, which explore bullying and harassment across Australian workplaces, found the rate of workplace bullying to be 9.6%. The reported level among Queensland apprentices is nearly three times that level.

The study identified risk factors that indicated the apprentices were more likely to be bullied. This included that the larger the company, the more likely an apprentice was to be bullied; decreasing company size was equally associated to decreasing risk of bullying, yet the numbers were still significantly high at 27% bullied within very small workplaces. The plumbing and metal trades apprentices were also more likely to experience bullying. While LGBTI+ were nearly twice as likely to experience bullying.

An interesting point to note was the high number of apprentices who had not completed an apprenticeship and had experienced was significantly high. They were three times as likely to have experienced bullying. Though it is not specified as to whether they are no longer in an apprenticeship because of bullying or for some other causal reason.

This report challenges us to think differently as to how we address bullying and create safe and mentally healthy workplaces for young people at risk in the construction industry.

Some of the ways it advocates for this include:

  • Industry wide onsite intervention program raising awareness of bullying as an issue and its negative consequences targeted to supervisors, trade workers and apprentices.
  • The maintenance and expansion of access to support options for apprentices experiencing poor mental health and suicide ideation.
  • Exploration of the benefits of structured industry based mentor and support programs.
  • Examination of how relevant industry, safety and employment regulators may support an apprentice experiencing bullying and mentally unhealthy work environments.
  • Conducting further research about construction industry workplace culture and attitudes to bullying; and the nature of the bullying experience by apprentices and to to help them develop their resilience.
  • Further investigation of apprentices who have been bullied and are unemployed.

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