Weld Australia is calling on the Federal Government to undertake an in-depth review of the TAFE welding curriculum, describing the latest Manufacturing and Engineering (MEM 2.0) training package as inadequate for the needs of industry while imposing significant burdens on apprentices, employers and TAFEs. Weld Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Geoff Crittenden explains.

Welder training in Australia is outdated. The TAFE curriculum has remained relatively unchanged since 1998. TAFE has been required to teach courses such as fabrication, in which the welding modules are of varying degrees of complexity and are usually optional. This has not produced welders that are skilled or qualified to the levels needed by industry, especially within the defence sector.

Young welding apprentices enter the workforce without the requisite skills or knowledge. Generally speaking, TAFE graduates cannot read a welding procedure, set up a welding machine, or weld according to Australian standards.

Released in June 2019, the latest version of the Manufacturing and Engineering training package (MEM 2.0) differs very little from the previous versions (released in 1998 and 2005). In fact, many of the units and much of the content remains identical to the 1998 version.

Not surprisingly then, MEM 2.0 bears no relation to what is actually required by industry. It ignores the huge technological advancements and changes that will continue to occur in Australia’s engineering and manufacturing industries. The course still devotes time and energy to oxy-acetylene welding, which industry has not used for about 20 years.

The future of Australian industry in a post-COVID-19 world cannot rely on regurgitating a curriculum that is 20 years old.

The MEM 2.0 training package

The only real differences in the MEM 2.0 training package are a significant increase in prerequisites, and the addition of more than 2,000 hours of mandated workplace practice. Both of these will impose significant restrictions and burdens on students, industry and TAFE.

  • Significant increase in prerequisites – The significant increase in prerequisites in MEM 2.0 will eradicate any modicum of flexibility for students, industry and TAFE. Course duration will be extended, increasing both the delivery costs for TAFE and the course costs for students. With extended courses, completion rates are likely to drop, with students expected to complete a greater number of theory-based, non-practical units before having the opportunity to learn the hands-on practical skills in which they are most interested. For TAFEs, delivering courses in a meaningful way will be hampered by the additional prerequisites, and there will be little opportunity to deliver short, sharp micro-credentials.
  • Prescribed workplace practice – MEM 2.0 mandates a workplace practice component of more than 2,000 hours. This will place considerable burden on employers who have to ensure that students are able to meet this requirement. Over 90% of manufacturing firms in Australia are classified as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which are comprised of fewer than 19 employees. These businesses are unlikely to have the capacity to sufficiently monitor the workplace practice requirements and may deter businesses from employing apprentices. This situation will be difficult enough for apprentices but is likely to be even more challenging for transitional workers hoping to train up and enter manufacturing and engineering. In essence, welders will be required to be employed in industry before they can successfully gain their formal qualifications.

The skills of the future

The implementation of MEM 2.0 by Australian TAFEs is due for completion by the end of 2020. Before this happens, industry must voice its concerns.

The welding curriculum must concentrate on the skills that will be essential to the future of industry. These skills must be focused on advancements such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, and advanced manufacturing processes. It is these skills that will see Australian industry continue its push into high-quality, complex, small-batch manufacturing.

The Federal Government must revise MEM so that the curriculum teaches skills such as programming, operating and maintaining robots, co-bots and welding machines integrated with artificial intelligence. It must include units that teach students how to analyse and leverage big data. It must delve into concepts such as Industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing.

The TAFE welding curriculum must be revised so that it meets industry demand both now and into the future. It cannot be bogged down by excessive prerequisites, mandated workplace practice that employers simply can’t deliver, and training in skills that just aren’t relevant to industry anymore.

While many of the state governments have backed this vision and invested in Advanced Welder Training Centres around the country, TAFEs still need real support from the Federal Government. TAFEs do not need more free apprenticeship programs. They need funding from the Federal Government so that they can invest in the necessary cutting-edge technology and equipment required to teach a forward-looking curriculum focused on the skills of the future.

Our young people need to acquire complex, high-order technical knowledge and skills. They need robust, deep and transferrable qualifications that provide a strong base for life-long learning and skill development. They need a TAFE system that is properly funded with curricula focused on the future.

If you support Weld Australia’s position that MEM 2.0 training package is inadequate for the needs of industry, apprentices and TAFEs, Weld Australia encourages you to write to the Hon Steve Irons MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training & Apprenticeships, via am.irons@employment.gov.au or PO Box 1060, East Victoria Park, Western Australia, 6981.