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Is there really a skills shortage?

There is a skills shortage in Australia in many trades, none more so than process instrumentation, but the Australian Government would have us think otherwise.

A recent report from the National Council on Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) explains that a ‘skills shortage’ is driven by different needs. Employment, money, youth, and position all play a role.

However, in order for a vocation to be included on the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ (DEEWR) National Skills Need List (NSNL) — which qualifies the trade for a Government grant — it needs to answer a number of criteria. And unfortunately, process instrumentation tradespeople are often labelled under the same banner as straight ‘instrumentation’ tradespeople, meaning that they often get forgotten in the mix.

This impacts negatively not only employers, but also employees looking for a new job and training institutes Australia-wide.

There are two other ‘skills shortage lists’. The first is the Skills in Demand Occupation Report which is constructed from analysis of advertised vacancies that employers have been unable to fill. The second list is the Migrant Occupations in Demand List (MODL) which is a subset of the Skills in Demand Occupation Report.

The organisers of both these two lists have decided the relevant ASCO classifications — Precision Instrument Makers ASCO 4115 and Electronic Instrument Tradesperson ASCO 4315 — do not need inclusion on the skills shortage list right now, simply because there has been little vacancy advertising of late. Of course, this is because those that have been advertised, were filled quickly.

Also, both these ASCO-classified trades do not necessarily correlate with the process instrumentation trade that is taught today.

The NCVER divides the urgency for a vocation to be included in the ‘list’ into four levels, one being the most urgent, and therefore the most worthy of inclusion. According to NCVER, a Level 1 Shortage exists when: “there are few people who have the essential technical skills who are not already using them and there is a long training time to develop the skills”. Isn’t this the perfect way to classify the process instrumentation trade?

Further funding cut

In 2006, the Australian Government’s NSNL ceased recognising process instrumentation tradespeople as a trade on their own, instead lumping them with ‘instrument makers’ and the ‘electronic instrument’ trade. Not only this, but in December this year funding will also be reduced for individuals and institutions who train in this vocation.

The extra funding that the NSNL offered our industry was crucial in assisting companies to pay costs incurred training personnel. It also aided certain TAFEs to maintain their skilled teachers during periods of downturn in the financial market.

In past years, lack of funding has seen many qualified instrumentation tradespeople forced to leave the teaching field and return to industry. Surely if this lack of funding continues, many institutions who currently offer process instrumentation training will have to minimise staff once again, in causing the industry to take a giant step backwards, once again. Can the companies who use process instrumentation tradespeople afford this?

Another issue surrounding the various Skills Shortage Lists is that there seems to be a push industry-wide to employ staff from overseas. Why are we attempting to circumnavigate the problem of ailing numbers of qualified process instrumentation people by sourcing staff from overseas? A further question

arising from this discussion is, if there is the Government reckons there isn’t a process instrumentation skill shortage, then why is it offering to cross train electrical personnel in process instrumentation?

Are you fuelling the fire?

The time has come for Australian industries to ask these questions and to ensure some monies, from various Governments, are allocated to maintain the process instrumentation trade as a distinct trade as an important trade in its own right.

In order to do this, we need to collect the right data to form the base of an argument that we can present to our Government.

Maybe it is time for the CEOs of companies who utilise process instrumentation tradespeople to step forward, band together and correlate any data they have surrounding the difficulties they have encountered in obtaining and retaining process instrumentation tradespeople, and then we can address this problem once and for all.

Have you been a victim of the Australian Government’s Skills Shortage List? Or maybe you have some hints and tips about sourcing and retaining skilled staff in our current climate? Contact the editor at with your comments.

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