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News Media Releases Youth training must be a key element of the boom
Youth training must be a key element of the boom
Monday, 10 January 2011 10:26

By Simone McGurk, UnionsWA Secretary.

The Barnett Government’s report into Skilling the Workforce of Western Australia last week was probably more important than its mid-December release suggests.

It underlined the challenge of ensuring that young people of Western Australia are given the best opportunity to prosper from the boom.

However while we are quick to congratulate ourselves as astronomical investment figures leap from the business pages, the figures showing youth unemployment are far more sobering.

Nearly one in every five young people looking for work cannot find it.

State Governments of both persuasions have failed to prioritise apprenticeships and have failed to implement the sort of effective policy which results in apprentice schemes that are attractive, relevant and well publicised.

But one of the biggest problems with apprenticeships numbers has been the absence of ensuring that the biggest resource companies have an obligation to produce apprentices.

Currently we have the big resource companies hoovering up tradespeople that other operations have trained up.

But in what looks to be creating the perfect storm as far as a skills shortages go, they also aren’t using local made products and so are not providing a demand to local companies to continue to train apprentices.

It’s excusable to raid the parlour, so long as you provide an incentive to re-stock it.

An obligation to train WA youth, on the some of the biggest projects in the world must become part of any future deal with WA resource projects.

The Chinese Government was able to secure plenty of work for Chinese workshops when they agreed to invest in the Oakajee rail deal with the Barnett Government. So if their cash is worth enough to secure a good deal then surely the same can be said of our resources.

Ditto the famed Austal ships contract with the US Navy. When the Australian company won a deal to produce ships it was under the condition that the work would be carried out in Alabama. Still good news for Austal ships, but better news for American workers and apprentices.

What better investment could there be for the future of Western Australia if all these giant resource projects were skilling up a generation of local workers would be able to move from project to project.

Go a step further and suggest the improvement could made if, with the proper legislative framework in place, work then flowed freely down to the workshops who also had teams of apprentices learning their craft from the best in the business.

The current apprenticeships numbers in the steel fabricating sector are truly shocking.

The GFC wiped out most of the apprentices and those companies that still have them are in numbers which are a shadow of their former selves.

If we want a flexible workforce, then we need a skilled one.

Given the current state of the manufacturing sector and the rate at which work is disappearing off shore it may seem pointless to suggest such thing, but the potential remains there.

All that is needed is a committed Government keen to follow up on its rhetoric in the glossy brochures.

However, it would also be inaccurate to suggest that our only demand is in resource sector and our only interest should be in the production of tradespeople.

With Perth facing the twin conundrums of a population which grows as fast as it ages the challenges of the health and community sector must also be met with a skilled workforce. In fact, the state government’s own labour force projections are that health and community services are the real growth industries for the future WA workforce.

These shortages don’t occur overnight and we must begin to wean ourselves off the idea of looking to simply import labour every time we need to fill a demand.

These are problems which will not go away which is why need the foundations put in place now. The State Government is right to acknowledge the problem, be we must focus on real results and not just expensive advertising campaigns which are also designed to paint the picture of a Government concerned with apprenticeships.

Under the Government’s watch apprenticeships have dropped by nearly 3,000 over the last two years.

It takes more than a hip poster campaign to encourage apprenticeships. They must be seen to be fairly paid, relevant and offer a clear path to employment.

Too many young people are currently unable to see that path in their chosen field, and so it means a lot of hard work needs to be done.

That’s bad news for politicians looking for an easy fix and a photo opportunity, but its work certainly worth doing.

This article first appeared in the West Australian.

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