Commentary: Gen Why Do We Underestimate Australia’s Youth?

A story published in The Daily Telegraph on 3 June titled ‘GEN WHY BOTHER? – Bosses despair as apprentices find work too tough’ has ruffled a number of feathers within trades and skills professions.  Based on data from a recent study by the NCVER indicating that over 50% of trainees drop out and that new apprenticeship commencements continue to decrease, the article attributes the issue primarily to Generation Y’s “casual approach to employment” and a communication gap between the generation and their elder counterparts.

Is Generation Y really to blame, or are there other contributing factors?  In an effort to present the issue from multiple angles, WorldSkills Australia made contact with an apprentice, a business owner, a mentor and an industry leader within jewellery manufacture to find out their views.

2015 Skillaroo Jyothi Forman, who recently completed an apprenticeship in jewellery manufacture, believes that there is a general lack of knowledge about the career opportunities within the industry.  “I think to entice more young people to enter into the jewellery trade there needs to be more publicity and education about the trade.”

Forman says that finding her apprenticeship proved difficult due to her lack of experience when she first started.  “There were limited apprenticeships advertised so I went searching by calling and visiting businesses with manufacturing jewellers, and so many of them did not want to put on an apprentice.  I found that having previous bench experience would have been beneficial as it takes a lot of time to train a first year apprentice from scratch.”  She believes that basic VET courses such as the Certificate II in Jewellery Manufacture provided by Melbourne Polytechnic will assist young people with gaining basic training before entering the industry.

“We need more qualified and skilled jewellers,” says Georgina Staley, Forman’s employer and owner of Georgie’s Fine Jewellery.  “I know at least five shops that are looking for jewellers and there are none to be had.”

That said, Staley believes in nurturing young talent.  “Youth are the future and we need to invest in them.  We have had other apprentices finish and go out and work in the industry elsewhere, and they have turned into really skilled people that we are truly proud of.”

“As an industry we have an obligation to provide opportunities for young people wanting a career in jewellery, and we need to accept that without new blood there will be no industry,” says Darren May, WorldSkills Australia’s International Expert for Jewellery and Jyothi Forman’s Training Manager.  “The most common argument against taking on a new apprentice is associated with the cost in time and money – the Catch 22 in this case being that with no new apprentices eventually there will be no qualified jewellers to employ.”

Both May and Chief Executive Officer of Pallion, Andrew Cochineas agree that a societal focus on degree-based education over VET also plays into the issue.  “An apprenticeship can be just as rewarding as a university degree from every perspective, and an apprenticeship can lead to an equally rewarding career,” says Cochineas.

He believes that educating young people on the personal and professional rewards of a career within the jewellery industry will help change the way young people view the profession.  “Every year, Dad bought Mum a nice piece of jewellery and every year, they went to the same jeweller.  I remember going to the jeweller’s office and seeing the joy on Mum’s face as he presented the next piece he had made for Mum.  Mum and Dad would never have dreamt of going anywhere else for their jewellery – ‘their’ jeweller was a member of the family!  If we educate young people of the personal and business potential of a life as a manufacturing jeweller, I think you’d see a demonstrable increase in jeweller apprenticeship numbers.”

WorldSkills Australia CEO, Mark Callaghan emphasises the importance of providing students with information about VET at an early age.  “This is why careers expos and Try’aSkill demonstrations are important.  These events give young people the chance to discover and try their hand at new career choices that they would otherwise have never considered.”

He believes that the crux of the issue lies within the perceptions of trades and skills professions.  “The misconception that you can’t have a successful career and a great life by taking up a trade or skilled profession is still quite common.”

Callaghan feels that effective communication and information sharing is the key to changing these negative perceptions, and believes that careers advisors play an important role in promoting vocational education and training as a viable first choice for young people entering the workforce.

“While I understand that there are great pressures on their time, careers advisors can arm themselves with quality information about VET pathways by simply getting out into the training facilities and into industry and discovering what these courses really entail.”

According to Callaghan, it is also essential to highlight the many career pathways available within trade vocations.  “Choosing a trade does not mean that you stay in one place for the rest of your life.  As with most professions, working hard within a trade can lead to other career opportunities down the track, including owning your own business and managing a team of other tradespeople.”

He maintains that this can be achieved in part by celebrating VET success stories.  “The opportunities and success that the Skillaroos have experienced as a result of their hard work and commitment to excellence are outstanding.  We are very proud to support these exceptional young Australians by showcasing their accomplishments and providing them with new opportunities for growth within their chosen professions.  In turn, they then become ambassadors for their trade or skill highlighting to all Australians what can be achieved via a VET pathway.”

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