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TURNING THE TIDE | MARKILUX

WITH COMMERCIAL IMPERATIVES IN VOCATIONAL EDUCATION LEAVING MANY NICHE AND SPECIALISED SECTORS WITHOUT TRAINING, INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVES ARE CAMPAIGNING FOR CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO A GROWING SKILLS DRAIN IN WINDOW COVERINGS MANUFACTURING. INDUSTRY HAS HAD to contend with its fair share of challenges in recent years; a global economic downturn, suppressed consumer sentiment and more recently the tragic devastation of the flooding in Queensland and Victoria. But to those in the business of foretelling the shape of things to come, there are even darker clouds looming, in the form of drastic skills shortages across many sectors, not the least of which is window coverings manufacturing. According to Manufacturing Skills Australia (MSA)’s Gary Dunshea, who is currently spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of the skills shortage, recent years have seen a shift in focus away from specialised training in some sectors, with the result that for some time now, TAFEs and private training providers have been withdrawing courses due to low enrolments. As a representative of the national industry skills body whose remit is to ensure that the skills needs of enterprises are met, Dunshea says this fact alone is cause for disquiet. “The balance between commercial viability and addressing the very real skill needs of industry is a difficult one,” he says, “but maintaining capacity is a long term investment. In some cases, all the equipment used to deliver these specialised courses has been sold off, making it virtually impossible to restart training should numbers increase.” To turn the tide of the skills drain, MSA is currently working with key textiles industry and furnishing industry associations with a view to identifying and supporting new opportunities to increase student or apprentice enrolments and help maintain course availability.


Associations such as the Window Covering Association Australia (WCAA), Australian Canvas and Synthetic Products Association (ACASPA), Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA) and Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) are all working collaboratively with MSA on a development strategy. The “taskforce” has taken a multi-pronged approach to finding a solution to the problem, including: providing networks with industry, TAFE and private providers to ensure viability of courses; promoting individual industries to employment consultants to make them more aware of the opportunities available in each area; assisting with development of free workforce development web tools designed to assist employers in the implementation of workplace training and recognition of prior learning (RPL); and encouraging employers to take on apprentices to ensure the future sustainability of the industry. Erika Schembri, co-director of Sydney business Independent Curtains, welcomes the move. A curtain and soft furnishings specialist with over 20 years’ experience, she says finding skilled workers such as experienced machinists and fitters is a constant headache. “We do have skilled workers working for us, but they are all 45-plus. There really isn’t anyone under that age coming into the industry. When the older employees retire, what happens then? And of course I’m not talking about just our company; This affects the whole industry.” Pino Mammoliti, vice president of the Window Coverings Association of Australia, corroborates this view. While the education sector does provide some courses, these tend to be more biased to the home craft market rather than the manufacturing sector, he says, adding that a short term, reactive attitude to current trends has inadvertently caused the current skills dearth. “The landscape in window coverings has changed in recent years due to design and fashion influences that have seen the emergence of a more modern, minimalist look. Window decoration has been all about plain blinds, which don’t require traditional skills. However, the market is always changing, and with the old guard of skilled window coverings workers dropping off, if we’re not careful, the skills base will dwindle away to nothing. Increasingly retailers are running out of options in terms of what they can offer, because the skills just aren’t there to put the product together “Retailers are continually asking us where they can find the skills they need and we don’t have answers for them.” Following the decision late last year for MSA, the WCAA and other organisations to join forces, Mammoliti says there is hope on the horizon. “We want to make some noise about this issue, and maybe have some input in shaping the way future courses catering to this sector will look,” he says, adding that long term hopes in addressing the skills shortage could also include some form of universally recognised accreditation. Meanwhile, recent changes to industry training packages which improve the flexibility of qualifications will go some way to improving options for specialised sectors, MSA’s Gary Dunshea confirms. These changes will enable a greater selection of skills to be included in qualifications, thereby allowing more customisation of courses to meet specialised training needs. Training package reforms will also allow for different approaches to training delivery, such as auspice arrangements, whereby more on-the-job training can be provided by an employer or association in areas such as OHS or communication, and in underpinning knowledge specific to the area of expertise


required. This means more potential for delivery in the workplace and less reliance on off- the-job resources. However, Dunshea stresses that industry must get involved to realise the benefits promised by current opportunities. While new initiatives and flexibility arrangements stand to benefit manufacturers, he’s unequivocal regarding the dangers on the horizon if industry fails to rise to the challenge. With differentiated, customisable product demanded by consumers and central to business success, the highly specialised nature of window coverings does not allow fot reliance on imports, he warns. Yet this is one possible future awaiting the sector. “We are at a critical point, if nothing is done, we won’t have experienced people to maintain a textiles, clothing and footwear or soft furnishing industry in Australia and our dependence on overseas suppliers and labour will be widespread and here to stay.” THE BALANCE BETWEEN COMMERCIAL VIABILITY AND ADDRESSING THE VERY REAL SKILL NEEDS OF INDUSTRY IS A DIFFICULT ONE,” HE SAYS, “BUT MAINTAINING CAPACITY IS A LONG TERM INVESTMENT. IN SOME CASES ALL THE EQUIPMENT USED TO DELIVER THESE SPECIALISED COURSES HAS BEEN SOLD OFF, M AKING IT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO RESTART TRAINING SHOULD NUMBERS INCREASE. Official page – www.markilux.com.au


Turning The Tide | MARKILUX