Lowering adult education levels a concern for Australian manufacturing

A report shows the number of students attaining Year 12 school certificates has increased, however the number of adults with Certificate III levels or above has dropped, which is worrying for manufacturing companies facing the current skills shortage.

According to Australian Industry Group chief executive, Heather Ridout, the government needs to do more to ensure the country has the skills needed to meet industry needs.

"The scorecard on Australia’s performance in school reform and workforce skills, released today by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council, shows some improvements across the sector,” said Ridout yesterday.

“However, this is a critical area for business and much more needs to be done to ensure we have the skilled workforce needed to effectively deal with the challenges of our multispeed economy.”

Manufacturing Skills Australia (MSA) identifies Metals & Engineering, Automotive, and Laboratory Operations skills are needed most if Australian industry is to compete on a global scale.

Apprentice numbers dropped especially in 2009 when manufacturing was hit hard by the GFC. Though the government’s stimulus package and infrastructure projects did better than expected to help the industry, apprentice numbers have stayed lower than required, according to MSA.

There is currently a lack of workers with management skills entering and being retained by Australian manufacturing companies.

The Manufacturing Skills Australia Environmental Scan 2010 says: “One of the biggest challenges facing the sector is the lack of high level management skills, especially in smaller enterprises. To remain competitive enterprises need personnel at all levels of management to have appropriate management skills that promote business productivity and enable market analysis.” 

Ai Group’s Ridout says the rise in Year 12 attainment levels is heartening, as is a rise in literacy skills in younger children, however the drop in Certificate III levels is a cause for concern.

"Particularly encouraging was the increase in the Year 12 attainment levels which puts us on track to meet the COAG 90% attainment target by 2015; and the lift in the national average scores for improved reading (Years 3 & 7) and numeracy in Year 5,” said Ridout.

"Literacy and numeracy are the ‘bedrock skills’ on which workplaces rely and improved achievement in these areas from the school system will, in time, help to raise the overall literacy and numeracy levels of the workforce which currently run at unacceptably high levels.  

"While the report found the proportion of Australians aged 20-64 years without Certificate III level or above fell from 48.1% to 45.4%, much more will need to be done to lift Certificate III attainment levels to meet the COAG target, including additional resources especially targeted to enterprises to up-skill existing workers.”

The latest Australian Industry Group – PwC Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (Australian PMI) shows access to skilled workers is a contributing factor to the industry’s negative growth.

During October, the PMI showed a shortage of skilled workers, slowing sales, the ever-strong Australian dollar, cheap imports and weak housing and commercial construction for the decline in manufacturing activity.