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Manufacturing workers must get a trade to survive the jobs decline as the industry morphs into providing high tech, high value products rather than mass production of basic goods.
The nation's competitive advantage over cheap labour markets overseas is in high quality, timely, niche and specialised technical goods. It requires a skilled workforce in trades including engineering and welding.
Already Manufacturing Skills Australia reports that 95 per cent of employers are struggling to find qualified technical and trade staff, despite its predictions that there will be 30,400 fewer jobs in the industry nationally in 2016.
Leading by example with training is the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce -- the peak Automotive Industry body in Victoria – which this week saw the graduation of 102 apprentices, all of whom have obtained full-time employment.
“VACC is proud to play its part in supplying trained and skilled employees into the automotive industry,” VACC Executive Director, David Purchase, says. “VACC supports skills, training and careers in the retail, service and repair sector of the automotive industry and is the largest employer of automotive apprentices in Victoria and Tasmania.
We provide the training, mentoring and practical experience with our host employers. It is very exciting to see one hundred and two young men and women start, what we hope will be, very successful careers in the automotive industry,” Mr Purchase said.
Overall employment growth of up to 2.4 per cent a year to 2016 is forecast in food production, chemical, printing and primary metal manufacturing. In the same period, employment in clothing, furniture, fabricated metal and paper manufacturing is expected to fall by up to 4 per cent a year.
MSA chief executive Bob Paton said there was a need and capacity for Australia to produce high quality goods.
He urges young people to get a trade and those who already are in the industry to pursue adult apprenticeships, have their existing skills recognised by a training provider as a qualification or undertake any training to top up their skills so that they can get qualified.
He said the industry was undergoing a restructure to try and find its place in the global market.
"Instead of very simple transformation of a raw metal to a simple product, it's becoming more highly complex and a specialised product,'' he said.
"The goal would be to moving out of low value added products to more high value added.
"Working as a maintenance person who would go in and hang up his brain for the day -- that sort of job doesn't exist anymore. We need people who are smart, reasonably well trained and educated and willing to continue their development.''
Products which Australia could excel in include making intricate medical equipment, automated machines or goods made on demand for immediate delivery, which Mr Paton said required a "switched on'' workforce.
"It's about finding our place to what we want to make and consume in Australia, what we want to export and the opportunities are there in Australia,'' he said.
The Federal Government reports manufacturing is the only industry in which employment is forecast to decline in the five years to 2016. However Puchase says despite the calls for more trade training, the job slump is down to the economy.
“Australia’s automotive industry is already highly skilled and the sad thing about the recent redundancy announcements and component supplier issues is that it is economic related. In no sense are these issues related to the calibre of the automotive industry’s workforce. Our local automotive manufacturers employ high quality, well skilled employees that would be the envy of any industry.
“The automotive industry is interesting because there is a need for high-tech, plug-in diagnostic and information based skills. For young people in particular, with computer skills, there are plenty of opportunities.
“At the other end of the scale, because the average age of our national fleet is 12 years, it means there are still many vehicles that require a ‘grease and oil change’. Again, there are plenty of opportunities for apprentices, as there is a demand for ‘traditional’ workshop skills and employees who know their way around the tool kit.
“VACC works across the skills spectrum to deliver training akin to life-long learning. For trades, there’s the auto-apprenticeship scheme which has just graduated more than one hundred newly qualified employees into the retail, service and repair sector of the automotive industry. VACC is the largest employer of automotive apprentices in Victoria, employing more than 500 young men and women, and mature aged students
“We enable young automotive designers to promote their skills through Target 2030 a design event for secondary and tertiary students in Victoria. They require a different set of skills including design, technical drawing, theory and practical conceptual awareness, environmental and infrastructure design. You still need hands-on skills, but these hands use pens, keyboards, modelling clay, wood and so on, to design the vehicles we will be driving in the year 2030. And we supply the business community with training packages provided by VACC working closely with Auto Skills Australia and the Skills Development Centre.
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