One barometer on the health of an industry is the number of students it attracts to that profession. Well, the number of law students in the country has doubled in the past decade while interest in engineering and the trades has slumped to its lowest level. That says a lot.
Law schools are big business for universities, with courses being offered by 42 universities across the country. Arguably, they are profitable and easy to set up. Engineering and trade courses - so desperately needed to take our industrial capabilities to the next level - are much harder to set up and run as they need expensive equipment and well-equipped laboratories.
Manufacturers I speak with often say that the apprentices and entry level staff they recruit have inadequate maths and science skills. And this is going to hurt us as our industry evolves.
The recovery of manufacturing in the US has been widely reported. Now the UK is following suit and the government is encouraging this transformation at the source. For both countries, the focus is on education. The concern is that Australia is ushering a generation of young people into the workforce with poor STEM skills. For the leaders of any country, that ought to set up alarm bells.
Unfortunately, no one in Canberra seems to be listening. The 2014-15 budget makes education more expensive and proposes cuts to some of our institutions that foster research and entrepreneurship.
To be fair, the government is attempting to shift the focus away from encouraging multinationals to use Australia as a manufacturing base (a lost cause) and towards fostering home-grown innovative companies, especially those with export potential. There is money allocated for a Manufacturing Transition Grants Program and an Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program. The devil is in the detail, but is this really adequate to kick-start Australian manufacturing and drive it up a more sustainable path?
More importantly, what is the government doing to convey to the industry that it really cares?; that manufacturing is key to our country and the economy? A positive outlook by industry, about industry can be a game changer. It needs a mind shift and I don’t see that happening as yet.
The reshoring trend that started in the US is beginning to take a hold in the UK as well. Eleven percent of respondents to a recent BDO survey talk about bringing manufacturing back to that country. The key reasons stated were quality of manufacturing, better skills in the UK and maintaining unit costs.
Australia has proven success in selected areas such as biomedical and high-end low volume manufacturing. And we saw ample evidence of this at the recent Manufacturers’ Monthly Endeavour Awards where 308 people gathered to celebrate the country’s best and brightest. There’s more detail about the awards on our website so do ckeck it out and think about entering the Awards next year. It is a fantastic networking event, an occasion to celebrate and is truly loads of fun.