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The Australian Apprentice

The Australian Apprentice article image

NSW secondary institutions and students last month received the results of the 2008 Higher School Certificate. For the 13th consecutive year, James Ruse Agricultural High School took the top spot, calculated by the school that has the highest percentage of students in the top 10 percent of the state. But if you take a look at their alumni, the best known isn’t a scientist, economist or lawyer, it’s celebrity hairdresser Joh Bailey. The mark students attain at secondary level, or in any academic environment, is one way to benchmark knowledge, but it is no indicator of skill required in the real world. It is not until students start experiencing the day-to-day life in a vocation that they understand that being good at one subject does not necessarily equip them with the know-how to interact with people inside and outside the organisation. It is therefore pleasing that a recent survey conducted by the NSW Business Chamber indicated that more than half of the 20,000 respondents were keen to hire additional apprentices in 2009. In an environment where staff cuts and hiring freezes are the norm, this is some foresight. Businesses with long-term vision already know the value of apprenticeship. Whether through formal apprenticeship programs, cadetships or allowing students to gain vocational experience through informal voluntary roles, businesses need to be a part of an apprentice’s learning process. Not only will this ensure that the next generation have adequate skills and experience to take business to the next level, organisations also gain by attaining a feel for their future employees, what their triggers are, and how they operate. Despite businesses tightening the reins on spending, including human resources, Australia must not forget that we are still catching up on a prolonged skills shortage, which has particularly affected trades such as hairdressing, carpentry and mechanics. The supply and demand for apprentices is an important part of maintaining these skills into the future and ensuring sustainability of trade. For about a decade, Australia suffered a skills drain as jobs in sectors such as manufacturing were outsourced overseas, and lucrative international opportunities, in industries like construction, saw an exodus our skilled workers. It is not to say that those remain are not skilled or talented, but to maintain a viable and sustainable level of skills maturity, Australia needs to be able to retain enough skilled workers to train and mentor the next generation and ensure they can take over when the time is right. What we can take from this drain period is the excruciating experience of operating in a boom without enough skilled workers to fill vacancies. To have businesses suffer through a boom due to lack of staff is a shame that Australia should not have to live through again. Who knows what our position might have looked like in these recent tough times had we been able to capitalise fully during the good times? So although the employment market is retracting, according to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations - which released figures late last year showing the number of skilled job vacancies as 48.2 percent lower than last year’s December figures - it is vital that Australia retain our skilled workers and encourage a new generation to take up the appropriate trades, and train in skills that look to have a role in our future prosperity. It is likewise important to sell the trades to the next generation as not only a viable career path, but also an enjoyable vocation. Responsible apprenticeship is a vital part of that marketing. As with any student-teacher relationship, an apprentice-mentor relationship needs to be approached with the view that the future skills of the nation are in apprentices’ hands. We need to value the role of apprenticeship in building skills maturity; that way, we will be ready to take full advantage of the next industrial upswing when all this turmoil settles down.

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