The Australian Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (AEEMA) today called on both sides of politics to develop a comprehensive national strategy to address current skills shortages in the high technology industry.
The industry group, which represents the electronics, information and communication technologies (ICT) and electrical manufacturing industries in Australia, said the strategy should reverse the decline in student enrolments and expand the pool of available workers in the sector.
AEEMA CEO, Angus M Robinson, said investment in skilled human infrastructure is vital to ensure Australia has people with the right skills to underpin technology assisted productivity growth into the future.
“Australia allocates considerable public sector resources to predicting, analyzing and planning for roads, schools, hospitals and other essential infrastructure, but we do not give sufficient attention to predicting and building our equally essential skills capability,” Robinson said.
“We need a national strategy which encourages companies and governments to devote greater effort and investment in skills fore-sighting, training and upgrading the skills of their people.
“We must also find ways to encourage a culture of continuous learning where employees want to keep their skills current.”
In countries such as South Korea and Japan, a culture of continuous learning has played a key role in boosting both countries’ economic standing on the world stage.
Robinson said skills development positively affects a country’s ability to absorb and adapt new technologies, which in turn, enhances economic growth.
He said the high technology industries are enabling productivity growth and social advancement across countless sectors of Australia’s economy. “It is vital that we continue to nurture these industries to guarantee Australia’s prosperity well into the future,” Robinson added. AEEMA believes the next Australian Government must have a strategy which includes:
? robust data to enable skills capability mapping to understand current and predict future skills needs;
? increase the number of technology based vocational programs in schools to increase students’ interest and capability in understanding, using, applying and designing technology applicable to the workplace of today and tomorrow;
? provide primary students with opportunities to be mentored by professional engineers and scientists;
? co-ordinate government, community and professional organisations to provide experience based mentor resources for teachers; ? increase support for university and VET students in engineering and technology disciplines to improve retention rates;
? address workplace culture, remuneration and working conditions to encourage retention of technology professionals;
? develop programs to facilitate skills upgrading in technical professionals; and
? encourage technology and engineering professionals to engage in the education system.
Robinson believes predicting and meeting essential skills capability needs of the future should be a key function of government.
“Regardless of which political party wins the next election, skills development should be acknowledged as an essential economic imperative,” he said.
Both parties have taken steps to address this problem with Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, this week announcing the formation of Skills Australia, an independent body that will play an advisory role to government, if elected.
“Too many businesses across our nation are being held back by the skills crisis and the time has come for national leadership,” Rudd said.
“Skills Australia will be an independent statutory body responsible for advising government on the future skills needs of the nation.”
Seven board members will guide Skills Australia.
Rudd said those people would include economists, business leaders, academics and training providers.
He said Skills Australia would identify shortages in skilled occupations before capacity constraint became a concern.
“The information gathered by Skills Australia will be distributed widely so that entrepreneurs, businesses and the workers of tomorrow can best prepare themselves for their future training and employment decisions,” he said.
“But most critically the recommendations by Skills Australia will help shape government decisions across the long term.”
One initiative currently being undertaken by the federal government to address the skills shortage is the development of a portal being established by the Department of Education, Science and Training and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.
The portal will track areas of skill shortage and future opportunity within the 356,600-strong ICT industry.
This is in addition to programs to attract more student enrolments and to raise the profile of ICT careers.
Only last week the ICT Minister Helen Coonan said there is an urgent need to address the negative perception of ICT careers in the community.