Region's educators looks at ways to fill south-west skills shortage

Short changed: There are 1000 vacant jobs in the south-west ranging from windfarm technicians to dairy hands and professional services.
Short changed: There are 1000 vacant jobs in the south-west ranging from windfarm technicians to dairy hands and professional services.

Industries suffering skills shortages need to be made sexy, South West TAFE chief Mark Fidge says. 

As the south-west looks at ways to address and fill 1000 job vacancies, Mr Fidge says one solution is to make them more attractive. 

He said educating students about what today’s jobs involved would help to change perceptions and highlight how traditional careers were changing. “We’ve got to make the agricultural industry and other industries and job vacancies that are often difficult to fill, sexy,” Mr Fidge said. “Rather than it being you’re milking cows, there’s all the technology that goes with it. We want to promote these as really sexy and attractive industries, tapping into the technology that kids have been using so they can see it’s so much more than just being on the farm.

“There’s opportunities to work with drones and a whole range of technologies that excite them about the future.”

In May, The Standard highlighted a glut of regional job vacancies hamstringing businesses and economic growth. Warrnambool City Council economic growth director Andrew Paton said shortfalls included agriculture jobs such as dairy hands, diesel mechanics, meat and livestock workers and shortages in professional occupations.

Mr Fidge said South West TAFE (SW TAFE) offered 90 per cent of the training required to fill those positions, though it would take time to train people up. “If there’s 1000 (vacancies) out there we have a role to play in getting people through the door to train them so they can go into these roles.” 

He said free TAFE courses under a $172 million state government skills package, announced in May, was another way to meet the shortage. Under the plan, 30 priority TAFE courses and 18 pre-apprenticeship courses will be free from 2019. “A lot of those courses are in relation to the skills gap need across any region in Victoria,” Mr Fidge said. “The intent here is once again to get people into training that will address these skills shortage needs.”

Community members can also access the Skills and Jobs Centre at SW TAFE for training and career advice. The independent centres are a Department of Education and Training initiative and are based in TAFEs across Victoria. 

SW TAFE schools, jobs and pathways manager Susan Pettigrew oversees the Warrnambool centre which sees 300 to 400 clients a month and runs workshops for secondary school students.

Clients include prospective and current students, apprentices and trainees, unemployed or retrenched workers, women returning to work, new immigrant/refugees, people seeking a career change, employers and industry.

Careers coach Michael Absalom works with clients to discover their strengths, interests and skills and the centre’s links with employers and industry means they are aware of positions available for suitable applicants.  

What are our future jobs?

If you cast your mind forward 20 years, what will the south-west’s future employment landscape look like?

Where will the jobs be and what can we expect from industry in the region?

These are the questions at the forefront of educators, Deakin University and South West TAFE leaders’ minds as they prepare their graduates for the future. 

Foundation of Young Australians (FYA) research says that today’s 15-year-olds will have a “portfolio career”, potentially having 17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime.

FYA says they will need foundation and technical skills and be able to use them “in increasingly enterprising and creative ways and apply them in diverse environments”. 

Deakin University Warrnambool campus director Alistair McCosh said the university used its industry links and research to determine future growth areas to stay abreast of the ever-changing employment needs.

“The critical offerings that we see as being important for our community and region is education, nursing, our medical school, psychological science and health science,” Mr McCosh said. “These are all integral graduate needs to meet the services sector in the region.

Regional focus: Deakin University Warrnambool campus director Alistair McCosh says the university uses industry links and research to determine future growth areas to stay abreast of the ever-changing employment needs.

Regional focus: Deakin University Warrnambool campus director Alistair McCosh says the university uses industry links and research to determine future growth areas to stay abreast of the ever-changing employment needs.

“Through our research we’re often at the leading edge of where industries are going and how does that translate into what we offer in our courses.” 

He said agriculture and agribusiness was a broad sector and a global industry with endless employment opportunities here and abroad.

Tourism, aged care and the energy industry are other areas on the university’s radar.

Mr McCosh said energy was a huge sector in the region and while Deakin did not currently have a course offering, it was looking at introducing a post graduate course. “It will be an industry led or demand driven that will shape what we offer.”

He said he had been in discussions with Lyndoch Living chief executive Doreen Powers to look at the role higher education played in the aged care sector.

“We'll look at is there a post grad offer or how do we upskill to ensure we are meeting the needs of what is a growing demographic in terms of needing support as the community ages,” he said.

Tourism is another industry he expects will increase as visitors flock to the Great Ocean Road and beyond.

South West TAFE chief executive Mark Fidge is lobbying government to have a $10million tech school built in Warrnambool which would service the region. He said there were 10 centres located in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Melbourne which exposed primary and secondary school students to current and emerging technologies helping to prepare them for their future careers.