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Does Australia have a problem with skills?

skills shortage

Have you heard the news? There’s a skill shortage looming across Australia as apprenticeships numbers continue to slide.  A report released by our friends over at NCVER shows that over half of all apprenticeships are not completing.

So, should we be scared? No, this low completion rate is nothing new. However, like many in the industry, I know we need to do something about it and whilst I don’t have all the answers, I do have a few suggestions to address the decreasing numbers in skills.

So, what are the stats?

A whopping 43.3% of Australian’s who commenced an apprenticeship in 2014 did not graduate the program. Now I’m not denying that that is a large number, what I am saying is that this has been an ongoing issue. In fact, in the previous reporting period, 40.1% of Australian’s did not graduate – so the change in completions from the previous period is only 3.2 percentage points.

NCVER also points out that, “Completion rates vary considerably by occupation. For individuals who commenced in 2014, the completion rate for ICT professionals was 94.7% and for food trades workers 41.2%.”

Now the next question, isn’t this concerning?

In summary, the data alone is very concerning. However, there is so much already in place to address this and to look for ways to increase the rate of completion.

We can’t just ignore this issue. And collectively, those of us in the industry need to continue to assess what it being done in this space, and continue to review its effectiveness. We need to be ready to adapt to this ever-evolving space, and we need to be focused on providing Australians with more than just a skill. We need to provide them with strong career outcomes.

How is this being addressed?

On July 1 2019, the National Careers Institute (NCI) was launched by the Federal Government. The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business states on their website:

The National Careers Institute will provide leadership in the delivery of high quality, evidence-based career development to enable Australians to make informed decisions about their learning, training and work pathways.

Like many others in the industry, I am excited to see how the NCI impacts the area and genuinely do believe if implemented correctly it will support people looking at alternative career pathways such as traineeships and apprenticeships.

The NCI is currently going through a consultation process and is calling for contributions. You can provide feedback here: https://www.nci.employment.gov.au/howtoengage.

The National Skills Commission (the Commission) has been launched to provide leadership at a national level to the VET system. The Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business states on their website:

The Commission will oversee the Australian Government’s investment in VET and drive long-term improvements to the VET sector. It will undertake research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure government funding addresses national labour market priorities including those arising from developing technologies.

The Commission’s role and functions will be refined through the co-design process to ensure that the Commission complements and enhances the VET system, improves coordination, coherency and efficiency, and enables local and regional solutions.

In September, 2019 the Federal Government released the ‘Co-designing the National Skills Commission - Discussion paper’ to inform the conversation on what the final model may look like. They are focusing on three broad questions, and are asking for input to inform the best operating model of the Commission. Find out more here.

What more can we do?

Whilst the Federal Government is implementing several projects to address the looming skills shortage there are some simple things that can start today to address this shortage.

For many Australian students, VET provides the critical work readiness skills and pathways for prosperous careers. However, VET pathways still face naysayers, who would rather push students into university degrees that will provide them with a nice certificate, a hefty debt and often minimal career opportunities.

Just like trades and traineeships aren’t right for everyone, it’s time we came out and said it. A university education is not the right course for all Australian’s. Schools, parents and career advisers must get on board and acknowledge this. Students need to be made aware that there is another option, and it may well just be the best one for them.

In summary the long-term issues to the looming skills shortage are being addressed. Thanks to the action of the Federal Government the wheels are in motion to overcome these issues.

In the short term, there are little things we can do, such as provide input into the governments papers to guide the discussion and by making VET a realistic option for more Australian students.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We don’t need to be scared, but we do need to act.

By Dr Peta Skujins and Cassandra Hoult. 

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