Negative perceptions a barrier to closing skills gap: member survey
The single biggest barrier to closing the skills gaps in advanced manufacturing is a poor popular image of apprenticeships and manufacturing generally, according to Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council (AAMC) members and stakeholders.
AAMC consultations in early April found that negative perceptions continued to impact on the quality of candidates, despite increasing success in the sector and the opportunity for apprentices to ‘earn while you learn’.
Member feedback was provided to a review of Australia’s apprenticeship systems being undertaken by the recently appointed Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham.
Senator Birmingham said the government was keen to pursue many of the issues outlined by high value manufacturers, including raising the status of apprenticeships, highlighting the breadth of career paths, reinforcing the need for students to have maths and science knowledge, and improving careers advice and opportunities to experience vocational education/apprenticeships in schools.
According to the AAMC’s survey, a common concern among members is that not enough is being done in schools to promote student interest in advanced manufacturing.
Most companies surveyed were interested in participating in school ‘open days’ to encourage greater understanding of the sector, and to ensure apprenticeships – many of which require the learning of highly sophisticated skills – are not seen as a last resort.
Members also report that a negative image of the industry, coupled with the scarcity of appropriate science and maths education in high schools, continues to make finding the right staff a challenge – even when attractive salaries are on offer.
Meanwhile, an Australian Industry Group report found that while STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills jobs grew at about 1.5 times the rate of other Australian jobs in recent years, Australia is lagging well behind many comparable countries in keeping up with demand.
Progressing STEM Skills in Australia, released in March, reported that almost 44 per cent of employers were experiencing difficulties in recruiting STEM qualified technicians and trade workers.
Despite the obvious skill shortage, the pipeline of STEM skills to the workforce “remains perilous,” according to the report, with participation in science and advanced mathematics in Australia’s school system in decline.
Participation in STEM-related disciplines was also declining in the tertiary sector, and low in the vocational and education training (VET) sector in all areas except engineering, the report found.