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Training crisis threatens industry's future: AMWU

14 April, 2014

Australia risks destroying the training capacity it will need to transform manufacturing due to governments nationwide starving and dismantling TAFEs.

The AMWU welcomed a landmark Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) study, which found it is essential to have workers' skills formally recognised and their qualifications upgraded if local manufacturing is to compete with the world's best.

But the AWPA's final workforce study coincided with a leaked report from the Victorian Auditor-General's office.

That report found that the TAFEs best placed to teach and upgrade the workforce's skills are in deep crisis due to drastic State government funding cuts initially exceeding $300 million.

Half of the 14 Victorian TAFEs that were formerly profitable are now in debt and increasingly forced to cut back crucial manufacturing and engineering courses.

The AMWU's Training Co-ordinator Ian Curry said the desperate plight of Victoria's TAFEs, with hundreds of teacher redundancies, was being reflected across Australia.

"The Workforce and Productivity Agency acknowledges we need a well-trained, qualified workforce yet governments are busy tearing down the very means by which we can remain a first-world, sophisticated manufacturing nation," Curry said.

The day after that AWPA study was released, the Abbott government moved to smother the Agency's independent voice by axing it and transferring its functions to the federal Industry Department.

Curry condemned the move, which may reduce scrutiny on state governments introducing funding that gave preference to private training providers over TAFEs.

 "This is no time for an ideological experiment with private training operators," he said.

The AWPA report found that 45 per cent of the manufacturing workforce hold no post-secondary qualification compared to 39 per cent for other industries, yet 90 per cent of the future of manufacturing jobs are likely to require this education.

CEO Robin Shrieve said manufacturing had a bright future if managers and workers had the training and education to develop innovative products for niches in global markets.

But this transformation had to start by boosting employees' literacy and numeracy, plus building on existing Recognition of Prior Learning programs.

Curry said that Australia urgently needs a national strategy to properly integrate industry with the TAFEs and universities which were training its potential workforce.

Without it, there would continue to be unemployed workers with the wrong qualifications, while employers resort to hiring 457 visa workers in skilled trades.

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Quale | Monday, April 14, 2014, 2:37 PM
Many years ago, when I left school, the biggest decision I had to make was what vocation I wanted to follow. All training was conducted either through trainee-ships or apprenticeships, (very little Uni). The training provider was mostly The local Tech college (TAFE), and the employer and government paid for the training. There was a booming manufacturing industry, full employment, and this was under the Menzies government. Where did we go wrong?
Hedley | Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 10:50 AM
Well Quale, I have given up on relying on the Government to train my apprentices. This appalling situation, where TAFE failed, did not happen overnight. If I could identify a period when "education" started going wrong for the trades, I would say in the Dawkins era. That was when universities were given a free run at building their kingdoms to produce "qualified anythings" provided that the student signed up with the HECS scheme. I would love a business like that. So, the TAFE grew to become out-of-touch with industry and the university group-think grabbed the chance to fill the void. Wait for more HECS and this time it will be for apprentices. My latest apprentice said forget it; he doesn't have the mind to pay for his training. Back to the Dawkins era, I saw a sharp decline in education standards along the lines of poor reading, writing, & arithmetic. The secondary and tertiary levels have told me that they now allow for a catch-up period at the start of their courses. (Any employer will confirm that many young people cannot read, write, or understand simple maths at an employable level).They found time for this by dropping some other parts of the course to make way for basic reading & expression to enable these new students to actually come up to some standard whereby they can participate in tertiary level studies. That was from the head of an engineering department last year. So what to do? I cannot have a business without properly trained apprentices and trades people. I call it supplementary training. This has me delaying my retirement to give one-on-one training in basic engineering and machining in my business. Given time, this training will be developed into a training course within my CMS web site and restricted within my business and those of my associates. Perhaps industry is facing a world that will become less reliant on formal studies? Maybe industry will take back control of the training aspects thmselves? Economically, that would give us back the many hours lost from our businesses to TAFE and tomorrow's equivalent, to "train" our apprentices. I am forming the mind to drop the apprentice system. It isn't working for me.
Leslie D. | Friday, April 18, 2014, 9:20 AM
Both Quale & Hedley are correct in their perceptions of when training started to fail the graduate. In 1972/3, I saw first hand the building of TAFE coordinated 'Block Training' where the apprentice went annually for 4 years for a period of 7 week 'Block Training'. I had the issue of re-indoctrinating a particular apprentice to the realities of an apprenticeship. The scenario was the apprentice was filled with so much "Bull S__T" that he would not do any work because the workshop did not have the $1,000,000.00's or more of the bright new machinery they trained on in the TAFE workshops to do the work at hand. It took some very coercive talking and threatening with Redundancy and in consultancy with his father before he would work to the minimalistic effort required. It was as a second year that I had a fellow mate who was also an engine re-builder who had his Caterpillar D9 with a cracked head and it had broken down many kilometres from the nearest town and was in the mountain ranges. I told the apprentice to take the hand tooling and repair kits with him and to drive to the site and repair the head and refit. His comments "There is no machinery or power to do the work". I told him he had the training and ability to do it as I had given him a good training background to do the job successfully. He still was belligerent and not wanting to go but I finally said, go and do the job or find another boss. His Father had also agreed with me that the 'Block Training' was a let down for all apprentices and we discovered through our own investigations that the teachers were younger trades people who could not really be classed as competent and had been made redundant due to their own inept skills or personal lack of work ethics and did not meet the industry standards of the time or they had been sacked for being under-performing participants but had managed to get their teaching training certificates. After the apprentice finally came back from doing a successful repair in the difficult location and guided by my client mate, he actually came up to me and said "Thank you" for putting things into perspective. After a fire destroyed my business and I had no work for the apprentices and fellow workers, this particular third year apprentice was made manager of Traders ACS engine repair workshop in charge of fully qualified workers also. The reasoning was he had had a very diverse range of skills and also I had instilled in him the analytical approach to all tasks. He has gone on to be the head of his Branch of Repco and when we meet, it always as good friends and a 'Thank You' beer or three.