A dramatic decline in printing apprenticeships in Victoria is a threat to the future of the industry, according to Chris Gander of leading printing recruitment firm JDA.
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) says in the 12 months to March 2016, the number of printing apprentices in training in Victoria was 1,680 – a drop of almost 50 percent on the same period in 2014, when there were 3,228. Only 281 apprentices commenced a printing trade in Victoria in the year to March, compared to 407 the previous year, and 258 apprentices withdrew or cancelled their apprenticeships, compared to 140 in 2014.
Gander, an industry veteran, calls the figures ‘startling,’ and warns that the industry faces a severe skills shortage if the number of apprentices going through the system continues to fall. He says there’s a range of reasons why young people are reluctant to enter the industry.
“The wages are pretty terrible but that goes for all apprenticeships. There’s just not a lot of understanding or education about the benefits and opportunities that exist in the printing industry for those who learn a printing trade,” he says.
“When I first commenced JDA in Melbourne, I had this altruistic ambition to encourage companies to take on apprentices and trainees to ensure our industry had the skills in the future to keep up with the demand. First, we offered rates of just a few hundred dollars to find apprentices, and we also worked closely with the then local office of the PIAA to encourage companies to take on the training. I’d love to report that our efforts were a great success, but that was not to be…
“When we found companies that were prepared to take on apprentices, we could not find school leavers who were keen to enter the trade. Many employers were unaware of the process of onsite training now that RMIT Printing School was no longer operational. School careers officers seem to take the attitude: ‘If a student is interested in the printing industry we will pass on your details.’ Gen Z’s (born after 1995) who were interested in a trade, knew very little about opportunities in the printing industry.
“The word ‘apprentice’ was something they identified with their parents. They were not ready to lock in for a few years even though the training programmes are now competency based, not hours.”
Gander says the new competency-based system has cut the training period down from four years but it can still take three or four years – ‘still a long time for a young person.’
Several companies have had success with older apprentices and Gander suggests it’s an area that needs further attention.
“Companies tend to overlook adult apprentices but many companies have had success with people, say, in their 20s, who want to settle down and learn a trade. Companies also need to look within their own business for people who could be developed into apprentices.”
The PIAA’s Future Print program last month released a detailed evaluation of its successful Future Print Apprenticeship Project, which engaged 311 apprentices across 118 printing businesses.
Future Print has made a number of recommendations to deal with the fall in apprenticeship numbers, including the establishment of a national training centre to support the promotion of ‘industry workforce development skills acquisition and to cover industry training.’