National Manufacturing Summit: Minding the skills gap

During the panel discussions as part of the National Manufacturing Summit, one topic that never strayed far from the lips of speakers was the issue of skills.

With the focus of the summit set by the opening keynote speeches, panels of industry representatives, peak organisations, and educational providers discussed how to get the right mix of skills for manufacturing’s future.

According to Shaun Manuell, senior portfolio manager at Australian Super, the lack of a digital strategy has hampered the ability of manufacturers to adopt new technologies. With few options for training in skills such as data science, manufacturers would miss out on the opportunities of Industry 4.0.

Part of what is driving this lack of future skills, noted Craig Robertson, chief executive officer of TAFE Directors Australia, is the lack of attention that education providers outside of the university sector have received. With trade qualifications less commonly chosen than university degrees, industry and education need to communicate that manufacturing is no longer dangerous, dirty, and dull, and instead requires design-led thinking.

At the same time, panellists cautioned that education should not avoid the core skills that manufacturing has always needed. With job composition shifting by up to 50 per cent for 50 per cent of all jobs, highlighted Megan Lilly, head of workforce development at Australian industry Group (Ai Group), the initial qualification one receives becomes the base upon which microcredentials in specific technologies and processes can be built upon.

These base qualifications have, however, expanded to not only include literacy and numeracy, but digital competency. In this context, rather than speaking about skills shortages, governments at a state and federal level should be encouraging education providers to fill the skills gaps, emphasised Lilly.

How these courses will be delivered was a topic that many panellists explored. Whether this would lead to the “workplace as the classroom” or through collaboration between industry and education providers to teach the technical skills and knowledge base in senior secondary schools and colleges. With Australian manufacturing unique in its composition, with 90 per cent of companies having a workforce of less than 30 people, a statistic unique in the developed world, any education solution that involves industry participation will need to confront this issue.