“Skills shortage to worsen”

A 20 per cent plunge in the ­number of school leavers starting ­apprenticeships last year will worsen Australia’s skills short­ages.

New data from the federal government’s National Centre for Vocational Education Research reveals the number of ­apprentices and trainees fell 18 per cent to 316,400 last year.

The number of commencements dropped 22 per cent to 192,000, driven by falls of 26 per cent in NSW and Victoria, 28 per cent in South Australia and 23 per cent in Queensland.

Only 157,000 apprentices and trainees finished their training last year, and 113,000 dropped out.

The biggest falls were among trainees in management, clerical, sales and labouring occupations.

The number of technical and trade apprentices fell 14 per cent, from 207,000 in December 2013 to 182,000 in December last year. The alarming decline in trades training coincides with a new OECD report warning that too many young Australians are neither working nor studying.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report shows that 8 per cent of Australian students are failing to finish Year 12, and 40 per cent of those have poor numeracy and literacy skills.

One in 10 young Australians aged 16 to 29 have low literacy skills — just below the OECD ­average — and 18 per cent have poor numeracy skills — above the average for industrialised countries.

Young Australians are also more likely to have poor skills in problem-solving, despite living in a “technology-rich environment”.

The OECD report says the best way to improve student performance is to give all children access to quality preschool education.

“Programs targeting adolescents and young adults have been less effective in this respect,” it says.

The OECD report says that one in four young people working in industrialised countries have temporary contracts, and 12 per cent are over-qualified for their jobs. “Even young people with strong skills have trouble finding work,’’ the report says.

“Many firms find it too ­expensive to hire individuals with no labour market experience … young people are twice as likely to be unemployed as prime-aged adults.”

The report shows that 12 per cent of young Australians are ­neither working nor studying.

Worldwide, the number of young people who are not studying or looking for a job has doubled to 39 million since the global financial crisis in 2009.

The OECD report warns that the large pool of unemployed youth will result in lower tax revenues, higher welfare payments and social instability.

“Young people should be an asset to the economy, not a ­potential liability,’’ it says.

(c) Natasha Bita

National Education Correspondent

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