Combining flexibility and innovation

Although often operating in the background, IBSA has an important role to play in Australian manufacturing.

The work of ensuring that vocational education courses are up to date is one that is often unseen or unknown to the wider industry. But it is one that is critical to the future success of the manufacturing industry.

At this year’s Endeavour Awards, the Excellence in Manufacturing Skills Development award will once again be given to a company or educational institution that is leading the way in training and education. Supporting this award is Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA) and Phil Clarke, general manager industry engagement, explained why the awards are significant for the developer of qualifications for the manufacturing industry.

“We a fundamental responsibility to promote skill development in our sector and one way of doing that is through awards like these, where we recognise high performance and that in turn we believe communicates and inspires others to follow best practice,” said Clarke.

Those programs that have gone on to win this award combine the best practices of skills and education with an understanding of how the industry is shifting as new technologies and needs emerge. While the winners may be the most outstanding in their field, what IBSA does every day is ensure that training packages are as up to date as they can be.

“Because it is a unitised system it’s relatively easy to add additional units as necessary,” said Clarke.

“The key to it is us keeping them up to date, and the packages themselves already have units that relate to the technical advances that are going on so it’s not as if TAFE institutes are training people to work in the 60s, the qualifications do evolve over time and we do build those technological changes into them.”

Driving these changes today is the rapid pace of technological innovation and the adoption of advanced processes by manufacturers globally and in Australia. Collected under the umbrella term Industry 4.0, these changes are requiring the next generation of welders, fitters and turners, and boiler makers to have a set of skills that are different from their predecessors.

“There’s no doubt that the digitisation of production methods is changing the nature of work and so we have to be able to ensure that that’s kept up to date,” said Clarke.

Predicting what this will mean for the careers of current apprentices and trainees may seem like an impossible task, but it is the one that IBSA must to do make training packages fit for the future. Within IBSA, this is done by way of an annual skills forecast.

“Essentially it’s a piece of research analysis and consultation which led to the production of these skills forecasts, there are nine of those to cover each of our training packages and it’s a degree of labour market analysis and they’re also talking about the technological changes that are going on and the directions that industries are expected to go in.”

This work is done as part of IBSA’s mandate as a skills service organisation, which provides the background for industry reference committees to develop qualifications for the manufacturing sector. In its most recent report, IBSA grappled with a range of challenges and opportunities ranging from the demand for engineering skills due to major defence projects, the move from the production of products to the delivery of services in the manufacturing sector, and the growth of manufacturing of bespoke, high-quality products.

At the same time, IBSA acknowledges that there are fundamental skills that continue to be in demand and must be retained in an ageing workforce. For Clarke, it is a matter of ensuring the system is able to both accommodate the new and retain the existing type of training.

“There are core skills that are important, and the trades still provide a lot of those core skills. Those skills need to be acknowledged, so it is a question of how that’s supplemented and added to over a person’s working life.

“A training package or qualification in Australia is unitised so you can pick and choose, and so it is a pretty flexible system in that regard,” said Clarke.

Ensuring the system retains this flexibility while ensuring that best practices are adopted and celebrated will be IBSA’s mission going forward.