Industry’s future in young hands

Manufacturers are being urged to think about internships and partnering with local work placement groups to overcome the present, and future, skilled workers shortages in Australia. 

ANY manufacturer who expects the present skills shortages to ease within a year or two, should only look at the resources industry’s growth forecast for the next decade – the reality is skills shortages are here to stay while ever the mining boom continues.

Much has been written about up-skilling existing workers, which is a great short-term fix, but long-term it’s the youth of today who must be nurtured and encouraged to join the manufacturing industry.

One attractive program that many manufacturers might not be aware of is an internship. At UTS (University of Technology Sydney) for example, engineering students, as part of their course, are available for industry placement for two six-month periods. Mary McGovern, industry liaison manager (Engineering Programs) at UTS, says the program is very popular with companies, with a 99% success rate.

"For companies who do engage with this program there are a number of benefits, it can be very cost effective as a short-term resource for the business, for example if a company has an increased work load, this program is a very good way to cover that extra need," she told MM.

"Plus it’s a flexible resource as well, where the students can move around different areas of the business. The course requirement is for two six month blocks, but a lot of companies actually retain that person, with around 60% of the students continuing a relationship with the company."

As with any new worker, companies are responsible for training the student, "but normally they are able to contribute and be productive in a short amount of time," said McGovern.

"Companies can be very surprised by the considerable contributions our students can make to the company. We have had a high number of great successes. We had one student who was able to make a cost saving for one company of half a million dollars last year, by developing a software solution. There have been a number of cases where students take responsibility for major projects, planned or unplanned."

McGovern says UTS alone has up to 700 students on placement over a year. They are placed in a wide range of companies, from small to large multi-national organisations, in a broad range of work experiences.

There are two groups of internships at different stages of the degree: first internship (Junior) which is early to mid-stage, and second internship (Senior) for students who are approaching the end of their degree. Senior students will be close to qualifying as an engineer and can undertake challenging projects, frequently leading to final-year collaborative Capstone Research projects. They are often in high demand with many offers of employment after their second internship.

McGovern admits some companies do raise concerns regarding protecting their IP, "however the student normally becomes an employee of the company, then the student, like any other employee, has to conform to the rules and regulations," she said. 

"So if there are concerns regarding IP, then the normal policy would apply, or there could be confidentiality or IP agreements signed as the case may be. However, with this internship it’s more project-driven rather than research-driven in most cases, so there is very little chance of worrying about IP. And as an employee, they are covered for workers comp and insurance.

She says that though payment is not compulsory, the university strongly supports payment of the students, but says the rate is negotiable with the student. However, the university does give recommended pay rates, based on students’ previous earnings.

"It’s a great program; UTS prides itself on working close to industry. We want to produce work-ready graduates, and this is a great way to achieve that," McGovern said.

"There are numerous benefits for both the student and for the companies involved. And in the longer-term we are trying to maintain our skills levels for the future and are hoping to address the skills shortages, especially in the engineering area. Programs like this can help and contribute to an effective workforce for the future."


Studies have indicated that young people want learning opportunities that challenge and engage them. Partnerships that involve educational providers, business, industry and the community assist young people to excel and to reach potentials above and beyond what they thought was achievable. 

One such partnership that highlights the benefits of collaboration is the Metal and Engineering Apprentice Recruitment Strategy (MARS) in the Macarthur region of South Western Sydney, where there are strong partnerships between schools and industry. 

MARS is designed to attract young people and their parents to metal and engineering trade career pathways, in particular in sheetmetal, fabrication and fitting and machining. 

MARS provides industry visits, engaging young people and their parents with the opportunity to explore three different manufacturing companies in the region: Nepean Engineering, Advanced Metal Products and Broens. 

Other members include Ai Group, the Department of Education and Training (VET in Schools – South Western Sydney Region), Catholic Education Office, school teachers, South Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, MG My Gateway, and MWLP. 

The visits include OH&S introduction, and guided tours in smaller groups with staff from each company. Employers are able to share information about what is being manufactured, how products are made, the production process, and what types of jobs are available.

Though the industry has undergone some technological changes over the years, it is still perceived in a bad light by many, thinking it is still a hot, dirty and dangerous place as well as physically demanding, low paid with no career prospects. 

MARS however showcases the many career opportunities for advancement within a diverse and global industry. 

Apprentices gain valuable, transferable skills that are sought across the world. 

MARS has a clear message for young people, giving them a taste of what the industry is about. The message includes: ‘local earning, local learning, global prospects with your metals career’; ‘Do the right thing – earn while you learn’, and ‘Make it in Manufacturing’.  

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