August 27th, 2014

During National Skills Week each year,  the question of what to do next is on the mind of thousands of Australian students.

Research showed far more young Australians believed a university degree provided more career options. But rising tuition fees and high levels of youth unemployment meant apprenticeships were becoming increasingly popular.

Retired National Rugby League player Alan Tongue lived the dream of playing professional football. But while he was a superstar on the field, he was quietly working away on a mechanic’s apprenticeship.

Alan is now an apprentice mentor with his former club the Canberra Raiders in the NRL’s program called “Trade UP”, which aims to match players starting an apprenticeship with local employers.

He said trades were popular with young league players. “Our game has actually attracted a lot of people to trades, we’ve got over 330 across our game currently undertaking a trade,” he said. “So it is important and understanding too that there is a lot more out there than just university.”

Musician Peter Northcote was also able to create a career and follow his passion. He said there was a range of career opportunities available and that it wa possible to live your dream, if you were realistic.

“I am not only a guitar player, I am a recording engineer, I own a recording studio,” he said. “So I producer people’s music, I lecture, I do a whole bunch of things.” “There are so many other avenues to get into rather than just being a musician.”

Experts hoped young Australians would consider this type of advice and listen to stories of personal experience during National Skills Week.

National Skills Week Director Brian Wexham said vocational and educational training was usually associated with tradies but he said there was much more available for students. “What about all the other things like millinery, or theatre costume making, or fashion, hospitality?” he said. “There is a whole bevy of careers and career pathways out there. “I guess one of the things we want to try and do also in the week is to show how you can connect a passion with a career outcome.”

Research by not-for-profit organisation WorldSkills Australia showed many Australians were unaware of the educational and training options available to them.

Experts said there was a misguided view that these careers were less valuable or less skilled.

There was the equivalent of 170,000 more full-time students enrolled in university last year than in 2009, when the previous Labor government began lifting restrictions on places. The Coalition has committed to continuing the policy. But some business and education leaders have begun to question the dominance of the university degree.

16% of Australian Stock Exchange chief executives do not have degrees. These included outgoing David Jones CEO Paul Zahra, who started out as a sales assistant at Target.

Fortescue metals boss Nev Power did an apprenticeship with Mt Isa Mines. He later went on to complete an engineering degree and his Masters of Business Administration.

Chief Executive Officer of Computershare, Stuart Irving, chose to get on-the-job training rather than go to university.

Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley said the federal government wanted students to consider a skilled trade. “Trades and training equips you for jobs all over the world,” she said. “If you look at food, hospitality, theatre, events, photography and film, they are transportable skills, and for young people today it is not about an Australian job market, it is about a global job market.”

New figures released by the Department of Employment earlier this month showed job shortages were more likely to be for trades, than professions. But experts hoped the tides may change toward learning a trade.

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