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Industry skills crisis as training bodies await Gov funding decision

Thursday, 02 November 2006
By Print21

Gary Hardgrave, Federal Minister for vocational and technical education, has not confirmed whether the skills councils will continue to receive funding after December 31 this year. A decision was originally promised for July 1 and has already been delayed several times, presenting the problem of the councils not being able to allocate any funds beyond the end of the year.

The Agri-food Industry Council has already been forced into administration and was only able to continue trading after it was thrown a lifeline by the Department of Education, Science and Training. Sharon Coates, chief executive of the IBSA, which is responsible for administering the Printing and Graphic Arts Training Package, says her organisation has been spared such woes because its commercial arm sells some of its training packages.

“This has allowed us to raise revenue along the way that has provided us with a buffer to allow us to ride out this period of indecision,” says Coates. “Staff morale has been effected as workers are not sure at this stage whether they will still have a job at the end of the year, but the council will be able to keep functioning until a decision is made by the Federal Government.”

Coates also emphasises the current $2 million annual budget of IBSA is a very small amount for all the industries it holds responsibility for, which includes 11 training packages across 286 qualifications, and labels the current situation as a precarious way to fund an organisation that provides such important services to the industry. “There is nothing to replace us with that would properly represent all the different interest groups that includes employees, employers and training organisations,” she says.

The Printing and Graphic Arts Training Package, a new national training regime unveiled at the end of the 90’s is tailored for education and training across the industry, extending across all universities and educational institutions, and an upgraded edition began its rollout in late 2005.

It offers a range of education units from which courses can be structured, with options spanning from basic Certificate II trade skills like Instant Print, Screen Printing and Desktop Publishing all the way up to Advanced Diplomas in Prepress, Multimedia and Printing.

Printing Industries lobbies Gov for greater involvement

As the skills councils await a decision from the Federal Government regarding their funding post the end of the year, Printing Industries is currently in direct discussions with the office of Federal Minister Gary Hardgrave as part of its lobby to have a greater voice in industry education. Peter Lane, national president of Printing Industries, says his experience with IBSA has been disappointing in this respect.

Printing Industries wishes to have an effective voice in the skills council and help drive the agenda for education and training in the industry, and that’s not currently happening with IBSA,” says Lane.

He claims that with the diversity of industry groupings under the current skills council structure (with IBSA also taking responsibility for administering training across business, finance, IT, culture and education), it is difficult for Printing Industries to have an impact on policy. “We believe there is a fundamental weakness in the groupings of the current skills councils, and we believe it is not the best structure going forward.”

Printing Industries is pushing an alternative structure where the industry would control its own training packages in direct communication with the government, on a sector-by-sector basis. “We want to control our own education and training, and you can’t do with so many sectors grouped together,” says Lane.

However, the current IBSA structure has received the stamp of approval from the union. Steve Walsh, federal secretary of the printing division for AMWU, says he hopes skills council funding will be extended into 2007.

“From the perspective of the AMWU it would be extremely unfortunate if the skills council network folded up. The IBSA needs to be funded adequately in order to continue providing skills and training services, and we await the Federal Government’s decision on this issue,” says Walsh.

The Federal Government established the industry skills councils in 2004 to be run as private companies, receiving around $15 million in annual funding across the ten different bodies. The organisations are responsible for developing and maintaining national training packages across different industries, with the Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA) responsible for education in the graphic arts sector, as well as business services, financial services, IT, cultural and education.

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