The Chronicle: Tackling the Skills Shortage

On a Sunday afternoon last summer my husband, Chris, made a valiant attempt to tackle the bamboo that was running wild in our front yard. For a journalist, Chris was doing a great job of digging out the roots. But just as the end was in sight and the cold beer was close enough to taste, he wielded the pickaxe and struck a pipe. 

The hole sent a fountain of water spewing into the air, Chris in the direction of the water main and me in the direction of the phone.

Many calls and $450 later, the pipe was fixed. And the whole exercise once again underscores the price we are paying in Canberra for our trade skills shortage.

In another house a few years ago, Chris and I were looking to renovate. Having watched way too many home renovation shows I knew I had to do my research, and was delighted to find a booklet giving ballpark figures of the cost per square metre of a renovation. I was less delighted to see the fine print telling ACT renovators to add another 25 per cent to the estimates.
According to the Canberra Business Council, the skills shortage in the ACT is acute. And the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Skill Shortage List 2010-2011 shows we are particularly tight on skills in construction, automotive and food trades.

If Canberra is to grow and prosper we need to address our skills shortage. One way we can do that is by nurturing and training our talent, and investing in trade skills training – particularly here in Canberra.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister Julia Gillard officially opened the Canberra Region Pathways Trade Training Centre at St Mary Mackillop College. Principal Michael Lee, who has to be congratulated for all his hard work, invited us to join their assembly and took us on a tour of the new centre where we had the opportunity to taste food the students had cooked in the industrial kitchen and actually see a house being built on site.

This centre, made possible with $5.7 million from the Government’s Building the Education Revolution fund, also caters for students from Merici College, St Clare’s College and St Francis Xavier College, and is living proof of how the Government is addressing the skills shortage here in Canberra, while giving students new opportunities that will practically prepare them for the workplace.

But it’s not enough to just give kids these opportunities at school. I believe we can do more to support our young apprentices as well. It’s not a good sign that only 48 per cent of apprentices are finishing their training. So that’s why we have created a bonus scheme to encourage apprentices to stay in their training, and invested $100 million in further support through mentoring programs for apprentices.

These kinds of commitments are crucial and I know they are very welcome as we try to reduce Canberra’s skills shortage. And I hope that next time hubby attempts to fix something around the house we won’t have so much trouble finding a skilled, and affordable, tradie.

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