DEMAND: Construction-related trades are booming and employers are crying out for skilled workers in these areas. We have been hearing a lot lately from leaders in politics, education and the business sector about the innovation boom and the need to expand our knowledge jobs.This is a positive shift.Our economy needs to diversify if we are to compete globally now, and into the future.
What is missing from this conversation, however, is recognition that skilled trades remain the superstructure on which the rest of our economy relies. We don’t often talk about the importance of skilled trades, but these skills are the backbone of our economy.
Thanks to a record infrastructure pipeline, construction-related trades are booming and employers are crying out for skilled workers in these areas. Emerging sectors, like advanced manufacturing, are also marrying traditional trade activities with higher level, technology-related skills.The problem is that our apprenticeship system is broken and the flow of young, job-ready, skilled workers is a drip when we need a flood.
In the March 2016 quarter, the total number of Australians undertaking an apprenticeship or traineeship declined 10.2 per cent compared with the same period in 2015. Increasingly, young people, their parents and, often, their advisers at school, do not see an apprenticeship as a desirable career pathway.
On the other hand, employers complain about a lack of job readiness and adaptability on the part of workers who are starting out in their trade. As a result, rather than take on apprentices, employers are increasingly resorting to skilled migration and other band-aid solutions.We need to solve this mismatch between what young people want from their careers and the skills employers are looking for by fixing our apprenticeship system.
The good news is that our political decision makers are finally taking note.In the meantime, the business community is proposing some real change.In our recent submission to the current NSW government review, the NSW Business Chamber called for reforms to the way that apprenticeships and traineeships are delivered in this state.
We need both tiers of government to work together on apublic awareness campaign that turns the attention of parents, educators and young people to the outstanding opportunities that an apprenticeship can offer. As outlined in the 2015 Australian Jobs Report, 85.5 per cent of apprentices are in full-time employment six months after completing their training, in comparison with only 68 per cent of bachelor-degree graduates achieving the same outcome.Secondly, we need to look at the success of specialist vocational colleges in countries such as Germany and Britain, and, examples such as Western Sydney TAFE at Nirimba, which allows students studying their HSC to undertake vocational studies – or even a higher education course – in a single location. This model must be expanded.
The modern trades need workers who are adaptable, with skills that can be used across a wide range of tasks, some which might not be specific to a single trade qualification. Flexibility also needs to be applied to the way in which we develop apprenticeship pathways.Currently, the only channel for an employer to ask for a new apprenticeship is through an agonisingly long and bureaucratic process via a government-appointed advisory body. Wouldn’t it be easier if employers could apply directly to the Department of Industry to create apprenticeship pathways?
Stephen Cartwright is the chief executive of NSW Business Chamber