I am not “big noting myself” or spouting the “back in the good old days” soap box stomp, but I have been involved in Trade Training for a number of years and feel fairly qualified to comment on this topic of “skills shortage”. The prompt for this impulsion was an article I read yesterday in a discarded copy of “Engineers Australia, October 2012”. This article titled “Reflections of a trainer on education and skills shortages” authored by Jim Haggart FIEAust, CPEng (Ref), prompted me to expel a blurted, loud “YES”. This guy, Jim Haggart has delivered a course “on the welded repair of dynamically loaded mobile equipment”. His Students encompassed engineers, drafts persons and tradespeople. He was surprised to discover that, even though these participants had gained qualification in technical professions, they actually knew very little about structures and had not heard of terms like “Stress Raisers” or “Neutral Axis”. Even basic knowledge of these factors is vital for good safe engineering at design and fabrication/repair levels within industry.
My apprenticeship in the mid 70’s involved a full first year at Technical College (Engineering Industry Training Board), where we covered aspects of many trades including:- Plumbing, Machining, Fitting, Milling, Turning, Domestic Electrical, Electronics, Welding and Sheet Metal. This also entailed one day and one night a week concentrated on our particular stream as employed and included theory on design, materials, engineering drawing, pattern development and costing. This one day and night per week continued for 4 years and culminated in exams which covered the entire curriculum (No pass no Trade Certificate). During this time many of us also had excellent “on the job training” to accompany the structured Skills Training.
When I began my lecturing role as a Trade Trainer, I was almost horrified to find that training here in Australia for Traditional Trades is for a mere 24 weeks over 3 years and the entry level of most apprentices is year 9 or 10, mostly consisting of poor academic school achievers. Not that poor academic achievement at School necessarily reflects adversely on skills learning, manual ability and dexterity but it does not provide young Trades-Persons with the correct tools to learn a “Technical Trade”. At best they become good “Production Workers”. Sadly, only a very small percentage do pick up the gauntlet for further education to eventually become Skilled Artisans of their trade, most of which typically start their own businesses.
In another capacity, I have also been responsible for employing Trades-People and have found it quite frustrating that very few “Skilled Trades-People” can actually operate as “Skilled Trades-Persons” i.e. Take responsibility, in part, for the project, perform a concise plan of the work, foresee possible problems in design or ease/accessibility of assembly, calculate materials and layouts, read engineering drawings and work as a vital team member. Instead we have a large workforce made up of “Production Workers” who must have all the problems sorted and planning performed for them. They then have to be watched every minute of the way during fabrication to control errors in measurement and drawing reading incompetence. For the small employer this takes up so much time that is often better to not employ “Trades-People” and do it all themselves, this stifles growth and curtails the handing down of skills and knowledge, hence the term skills shortage.
Jim Haggart wrote, “I believe the term “skills shortage’ is loose. Those who have completed an apprenticeship or have technical or tertiary qualification are skilled but to what degree for their actual tasks is the question. It is not a person’s fault he/she doesn’t know. The education system in any particular area could be lacking and every endeavor to correct it must be worthwhile.”
The main problem I found as an educator was that the trade training system is driven by big corporations who actually want “Production Workers”, this is to the detriment of Traditional Trades which require real “Skilled” personnel. This is the reason we have a Skills Shortage and this is why growth and innovation will be stifling for future generations unless we invest properly in preparing our young people for a working life where attention to detail and responsibility to complete a task accurately is paramount, then trade trainers, funded properly, will have something to work with to help them perform their part in the Skills Training of Australians. Education is the key to assist in many social-economic issues, providing a means to diffuse the skills shortage is another of these issues which must be addressed. Everything is cyclic and once-great-Nations will cycle round to great again but how long it takes is another matter.