Two tradesman carry a beam inside a construction site

Trades need reform to immigration, training, industrial relations

31 August 2022
Report makes 13 recommendations to address future skills needs
Current industrial relations, training and immigration policy arrangements need reform to meet workforce needs in vocational trades, according to new research from the University of Sydney Business School.

Associate Professor Chris F Wright

Released on the eve of the September 2022 Australian Jobs and Skills Summit, the report Bargaining for skills is based on a three-year Australian Research Council-funded project including an analysis of academic studies, statistical data and interviews with 60 industry stakeholders.

The report’s findings are developed from a detailed analysis of two industries reliant on vocational trades skills: hospitality and construction.

Its recommendations are designed to generate ideas to allow employers, unions, and government to address workforce needs more sustainably.

Chris F Wright, Associate Professor of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School, said few studies have explored how industrial relations, training and immigration combine to address skills needs.

“There are major challenges meeting future trades skills and workforce needs. Current arrangements around immigration, training and industrial relations have been designed to satisfy the immediate demands of individual employers but are less equipped to meet longer-term workforce needs.

“Problems with job quality and insecure work have been barriers to workforce attraction, retention and development. Concerns over poaching and the quality of skills production have discouraged employers from investing in vocational training.

“Unscrupulous employers have been able to gain an unfair advantage by mistreating temporary migrant workers rather than investing in training and improving job quality,” Associate Professor Wright said.

The report makes 13 recommendations to address future workforce needs on a more sustainable basis. Recommendations for the Australian Government include:

  • Redesign temporary skilled visa regulations to ensure they address skills shortages to improve industry competitiveness rather than individual employers’ recruitment difficulties, which may be due to uncompetitive wages and poor job quality.

“An industry-sponsorship model should replace the existing single-employer sponsorship model, which is poorly equipped for addressing skills shortages and increases the risks of underpayment and mistreatment,” Associate Professor Wright said.

  • Increase funding of reputable training providers, such as TAFE colleges, non-profit adult and community educators, and registered training organisations operated by employer associations and trade unions.
  • Encourage the creation of collectively bargained ‘Sector Skills Agreements’ between employer associations and trade unions setting out the respective roles to be played by industrial relations, training and immigration arrangements in addressing each sector’s skills and workforce needs.

“Industry coordination needs to be strengthened to ensure industrial relations, vocational training and immigration policies function in a complementary manner towards a common purpose, and that employer associations and trade unions work together to achieve this,” Associate Professor Wright said.

“There is plenty for employers to do, such as work with trade unions to strengthen industry coordination over training; improve job quality – including among apprentices and trainees – to strengthen workforce attraction and retention; and reduce standard working hours to ensure that workers with care responsibilities can reconcile their work and family responsibilities.”

Declaration: The research underpinning this project was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and included interviews with the employer association and trade union officials.

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