Europe

‘Aggressive marketing’ by universities adding to skills shortage

Related Story: Uni students taking longer than ever to finish degrees

Australia is facing a looming trade skills shortage as a "perfect storm" and "aggressive marketing" by universities leads to a sharp downturn in people taking up traineeships, a new report has found.

Key points:

  • Traineeship commencements halved in six years
  • Warning of trade labour shortfall
  • Call for advertising campaign to 'relaunch' trade training

The Rebalance and Relaunch report, prepared by Victorian Skills commissioner Neil Coulson, warns parents and schools are "over-valuing" university degrees.

This, combined with an ageing workforce and negativity around the future of trade jobs, is leading to concern about a potential labour skills shortage in the future.

"We have societal expectations driving and propelling more and more young people to take up university options," Mr Coulson said.

"Despite current levels of youth unemployment and the good prospects that a trade offers, it's a challenge to attract capable apprentices into many industries."

The report found there had been a slight decrease in apprenticeship commencements in Victoria in the past few years, while traineeships had plummeted from more than 100,000 in 2011 to about 50,000 in 2016.

"Aggressive marketing by universities has fuelled an unprecedented boom in higher education enrolments," the report reads.

It cited a Victorian study that found 54 per cent of high school graduates in 2016 enrolled in a bachelor degree, while only 8 per cent entered into an apprenticeship or traineeship.

The commissioner's report comes on the heels of new Federal Government data that revealed 30 per cent of university students were failing to gain work within four months of graduating.

"I would throw the challenge out to parents to have a think about what pathways are available, what opportunities are available," Mr Coulson said.

'Forget about the robots'

Mr Coulson believes part of the problem for trades is the perception that robots will replace labour jobs in the near future.

"I don't think our situation is helped, in fact I think it's compounded, by this nonsense that's been talked about in terms of all jobs being replaced or disappearing over the next 10 years," he said.

"These elements produce an environment where the traditional perceived value of apprenticeship and traineeship models is being lost.

"It's urgent — employer and public confidence in apprenticeships and traineeships needs to be addressed, and the potential for future decline in commencements in vital trades needs to be arrested."

His report makes a number of recommendations to address the issue.

These include getting better data on the labour needs of the workforce going forward; improving the quality of training programs on offer; and starting a publicity campaign to raise the profile of apprenticeships and traineeships.

"A successful relaunch is not just a slick advertising campaign, but a complete re-positioning of apprenticeships and traineeships," the report reads.

"Demand-driven planning and industry leadership would be key features of the relaunch."

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