Monday, February 04, 2013

Many new to trades lack basics, say employers

BAKERS who can't bake bread, butchers who can't make sausages and hairdressers who can't shampoo hair - welcome to a new generation of qualified professionals.

Tradespeople have slammed the current apprenticeship system, with a national skills shortage leading to newly qualified butchers, bakers, hairdressers and chefs who are unable to complete basic tasks.

Many trades have moved from requiring long-term work experience and compulsory TAFE time to flexible systems with on-site training and competency tests, with some bakers now qualifying in 12 months.

Old Fernvale Bakery owner Bill Rose said the skill level of qualified bakers was "ridiculously embarrassing", and many couldn't even bake a loaf of bread.

"Trying to employ a baker who can bake is the most difficult thing to do in this country," he said.  "I can get 60 resumes from people who are qualified and simply can't even bake a white loaf of bread."  "They have no idea how to make a pie and I can't remember the last time a baker applied for a job who could bake a cake."

Mr Rose said bakers who completed their apprenticeships through supermarket chains often did little baking and were "unemployable" in a traditional hot bread shop.

Uncle Bob's Bakery owner Brett Noy said many qualified bakers now didn't know how to follow a recipe, mix dough or use a thermometer.  "They can't even make scones," Mr Noy said. "There are many housewives in Brisbane who have a greater baking knowledge and talent than what's coming out of our apprentice system," he said.

The baker - who is captain of the Australian Baking Team and operates four branches in the southeast - said reduced training could affect food safety standards.  He said he had taken his concerns to the government but with nil effect.

The problems are not limited to the baking industry.

Super Butcher general manager Terry O'Hagan said qualified butchers coming through the supermarket system needed retraining and often had little to no experience sausage making, meat boning or breaking down lamb and beef.

"There are people that have a butcher's certificate that you can't call butchers," he said.  "It really annoys me that those certificates can be handed out just like that, because they just don't have the skills."

He said the current system was failing apprentices as well as the industry, and needed to be changed at a government level.

Victoria Point's Beautify Hair Design manager Dana Kovacic said the salon industry had similar problems, and she had fielded job applications from qualified hairdressers who didn't know how to shampoo hair or do a basic children's haircut.  "We can't employ someone and we've been looking for six months because they can't even do the basics," she said.

Ms Kovacic said in one demonstration a fully qualified hairdresser had bleached her hair so badly that it melted off in the applicant's hands.

She said the lack of knowledge in combination with the chemicals used in the industry could be dangerous, and hairdressers should have to pass an independent examination before becoming qualified.

Belmont-based School of Culinary Excellence owner, chef and trainer Alison Taafe said she had met qualified chefs who were unable to make basic sauces, run a service properly or prepare meat, despite having passed skills tests.  "It's very obvious that some of them have been put through their apprenticeship and are not competent in certain things," she said.

She said the apprenticeship system needed to go back to basics to ensure people with the qualifications could actually do the job.

Queensland Education, Training and Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek said that he was confident in the quality assurance framework.  "The Newman Government is committed to ensuring training qualifications are of industry standard," Mr Langbroek said.

He said oversight of qualifications and training providers was regulated by the Australian Skills Quality Authority, and encouraged those with concerns to contact them.

ASQA chief commissioner Chris Robinson said since its inception in mid-2011, the body had received more than 600 complaints against training providers, and 184 training providers had been refused registration or had their registration cancelled or suspended.

"The quality of Australian training is pretty good, overall, but there are some real issues in the system where people are not providing adequate quality and not doing assessment properly, and there are people coming through and getting assessed as having competencies they don't have," he said.

But, he said, problems in the apprenticeship system were not endemic, and said the body had found only about 5 per cent of providers had serious issues in training provision from the country's 4900 training organisations.  "We are highly concerned with what is a minority of providers who are not providing training that meets the national standard and we're aiming to deal with them," he said.

Outgoing Federal Skills Minister Senator Chris Evans said the State Government was responsible for the arrangements between apprentices, businesses and training providers, and the Federal Government had made a record investment of almost $1.5 billion in the Queensland training system.

"Unfortunately, our investment in quality training hasn't been matched by the Newman Government which has announced plans to slash its investment and cut the number of TAFE campuses by half," he said.

A National Skills Standards Council spokesman said a review was under way into vocational education and training standards.  He said learner outcomes were a significant issue in the review, and new standards were set to be implemented from 2015.


Gillard knows how to stop the boats

Amanda Vanstone

As the September 14 election approaches, we will no doubt hear more from both major parties on the issue of border control. At least we have agreement on some aspects of this policy area. Both parties understand that there are many, many more refugees in the world than we can afford to accept. They agree that the government decides how many we can afford to take and they agree that those who come by boat, because they can afford to pay a people smuggler, should not have an advantage over poor refugees waiting in camps. Offshore processing is an essential and agreed part of achieving that aim.

If Labor really wants to stop the boats, it should toughen up and agree to reinstate temporary protection visas (by any new-fangled name they may choose to make it look a bit different) and to cut off family reunions. We will have to wait and see if that reality dawns. Labor has come kicking and screaming to adopt so much of the Howard policy agenda. This extra little bit shouldn't be too hard. It would certainly blunt the Coalition attack on the ALP in coming months.

As immigration minister in the Howard government, I am pleased that Labor has at least accepted some of our border protection policies. But I am also irritated. Why? Because Labor constantly sought to portray my party as a bunch of old racists.

The coward's way, which was frequently chosen, was to call John Howard a dog whistler. This sort of rubbish can easily be peddled through interest groups and those commentators keen to use the opportunity to define themselves as being opposed to racism. Now that Labor has similar policies to Howard's, I do not hear them whistling any dog tunes. Funny about that. Perhaps Labor sought to portray the Liberals as racists to assuage some guilt about the ALP's past, or at the very least to divert voters' attention from Labor's record.

If you know any servicemen who served in Timor during World War II, you might ask them about the extraordinary role played by the Timorese criados in helping our troops. While you're there, ask them about the anguish of knowing that we refused to open our hearts and evacuate these people who risked their lives to save Australian lives. We left them behind to face an unsafe and unhappy future.

Then there's former Labor leader Arthur Calwell. He should rightly be acknowledged as the father of our modern immigration system - although you will not hear a Labor person admitting that Robert Menzies, as the then opposition leader, played a critical role in getting it accepted and laid the first brick in Australia's bipartisan approach to immigration by urging the government to be adventurous rather than cautious.

But there was a darker side to the policy; there was a rule (which proved ineffective but demonstrated intent) that there should be 10 Britons for every non-white alien. And returned servicemen with Japanese war brides found Calwell not only unmoved by their desire to bring their wives home but bitterly opposed. He said that while "Any relatives remain of Australian soldiers dead in the Pacific battlefields", it would be "the grossest act of indecency to permit any Japanese of either sex to pollute Australian shores".

Calwell fought vigorously after the war to have Chinese, Malay and Indonesian wartime refugees deported. He had a special bill drafted to deal with one, Mrs Annie O'Keefe, an Ambonese woman with eight children who had fled to Australia with them. Her husband had died fighting the Japanese and she had remarried an Australian. Only the good offices of the departmental secretary saved her.

Then there's Calwell's infamous line about two wongs not making a white. Some argue it was taken out of context, but not that it wasn't said. Calwell was a zealous supporter of the White Australia Policy. In contrast, only a few years later, under the Liberals, Paul Hasluck, as administrator of the territories, was able to secure agreement that Chinese and mixed-race people in Papua New Guinea were able to settle in Australia and become Australian citizens.

Getting closer to the issue of border protection, one might find former Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew's biography illuminating. He was particularly affronted by the Whitlam government's proposal that Singapore should allow some 8000 Vietnamese refugees to disembark there, whereupon Australia would choose less than 200 to accept here. Singapore could worry about the others.

Whitlam was not a racist. As former Labor minister Clyde Cameron tells the story, Whitlam's opposition was more political. Cameron and Whitlam's deputy, Lance Barnard, had organised a flight in April 1975 to bring Vietnamese orphans and babies to Australia. Cameron says Whitlam justified cancelling the flight by saying he wasn't having "Vietnamese Balts coming to Australia".

If you believe Labor, you might believe it was only because of Whitlam that the White Australia policy was undone. You might be surprised to know that the father of Australian multiculturalism, Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, concluded that the policy "had its demise at the hands of mainly Liberal ministers and finally of the Whitlam Labor government".

The Australia prime minister Lee Kuan Yew most admired was Menzies. The postwar Menzies government was a strong supporter of the Colombo Plan, a key element in our early relations with Asia. People with long memories understand the forward and outward-looking policies Menzies implemented. Lee said Menzies understood "that sentiments and ties of kinship could not displace the realities of geopolitics and geoeconomics in the post-imperial world". That understanding from an Australian can be phrased another way: The Asian Century is around the corner. And yet Julia Gillard seems to think she discovered it!


Leftist "Justice Reinvestment" just  another reinvention of a failed idea

The Australian Senate is conducting an inquiry into the value of a Justice Reinvestment approach in Australia with a particular focus on Aboriginal people in prison. However, the assumption underpinning Justice Reinvestment—that the prison system is a failure—ignores the fact that many offenders are in prison for a reason. Prisons serve a purpose and help protect society by taking out of circulation violent and repeat offenders.

Justice Reinvestment is a concept from the United States which proposes redirecting money spent on prisons into programs to address the underlying causes of offending in communities with high levels of incarceration.

Advocates of a Justice Reinvestment approach use the high costs associated with incarceration to argue for more non-custodial sentences such as diversion. Many people believe Aboriginal people are unfairly targeted by police and arrested for relatively minor ‘social nuisance’ offences, but this ignores the fact that a large proportion (50 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are in jail for serious crimes (homicide, assault and sex offences).

Rather than just asking why Indigenous people are over-represented in Australia’s prisons, we also need to ask why certain Indigenous Australians are committing such serious crimes.

The National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee estimates alcohol is a factor in up to 90 per cent of all Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system: 87 per cent of all Indigenous intimate partner homicides are alcohol related, and 63.8 per cent of Indigenous adult offenders report drinking alcohol before being arrested and placed in police custody.

Unemployed Indigenous people are also 20 times more likely to offend and end up in prison than employed Indigenous people.

A 2012 study in Queensland found the most chronic and costly offenders were from remote and very remote locations where there is appalling education and few employment options. In the remote community of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, one out of every six residents (93 people from a total population of 587) is in prison.

To address the underlying causes of Indigenous offending, we need to focus on education and employment, and not be waylaid into thinking the answer lies with yet more ‘culturally appropriate’ or ‘Indigenous distinct’ programs. Worryingly, some supporters of Justice Reinvestment are already arguing for ‘culturally appropriate’ initiatives such as Indigenous healing centres.

Justice Reinvestment supporters talk as if offenders are victims of the criminal justice system, forgetting the actual real victims, and their right to some sort of redress. Diversion programs to provide employment and training for young offenders may be worthwhile but waiting till someone offends to provide education and employment training is too late. Improving educational outcomes should not be reliant on the diversion of funds from prison services but a basic right that states and territories should be covering in their education budgets.


Language policy gone loco

For every story of sovereign debt risks in Europe and US fiscal woes, there is a reminder of Asia’s bullish economic ascension.

The Liberal Party’s latest policy document, Our Plan – Real Solutions for all Australians, reflects this shift in the world’s centre of economic gravity. Noting that the Asia-Pacific region will be home to 66 per cent of the global middle-class by 2030, the Liberal Party wants Australia to ‘develop more Asia-capable talent.’

As well as a two-way ‘Colombo Plan’ redux that will send Australian students to Asian universities, the policy sets a target of 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying Languages Other Than English (LOTE)—with particular emphasis placed on Asian languages.

Like the discontinued Keating and Rudd government-era initiatives, this latest proposal to increase the number of students studying LOTE flies in the face of the practical considerations at the forefront of students’ minds.

As edifying as learning another language might be, it is unlikely to be an appealing choice for many students trying to edge out their peers in tight ATAR competitions.

On top of the great challenges of absorbing a new and incredibly complex system of communication, many students suffer the added disadvantage of not having the trump card of a native-speaking parent.

Battling through years of tortuous tones or confusing conjugations will hardly seem worth it when their likely competition is exposed to the language every night at the dinner table.

Many students will also conclude that the long-term career benefits of LOTE study are often exaggerated by language study advocates.

As I have argued elsewhere, English will probably remain the global lingua franca in the Asian Century.

There are approximately 2 billion English speakers worldwide; 800 million of which are in Asia—far more than the entire Anglosphere.

One-third of the world’s population is already studying English, and by 2050, four of the six most populous countries in the world (India, the United States, Nigeria and Pakistan) will have English as an official language.

To be sure, studying LOTE is by no means a waste of time. Learning another language provides a rewarding entrée into another culture and is a useful tool for leveraging oneself into careers in diplomacy, business, hospitality, and a host of other fields.

Nevertheless, the difficulty of language learning and the global dominance of English suggest that the target of 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying LOTE is loco.


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