As a secondary teacher in central Queensland, Robert began his career teaching early vocational education courses before joining the Queensland Resources Council where he developed education programs for schools and the tertiary education sector for the next ten years.

With his passion for vocational education, Robert helped establish the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy, a partnership between industry and schools aimed at getting young people into vocational pathways and into work.   Australia’s minerals industry was experiencing a skills shortage and required workers with various skills and trade qualifications from diesel mechanics to welding and construction skills such as and carpentry and plumbing.

“A skills shortage exists because people don’t have the necessary skills that employers want at a particular point in time.  The vocational education and training sector is slow to respond to where a skill need might be in one or two years’ time.  For example, going into a boom period in the mining industry, skills development was at that time years behind as people don’t tend to train or seek vocational pathways when an industry is in downturn.”

“When industry needs people, they need them quickly, but people have not been training or are not in apprenticeships as they can’t see the potential for employment in the longer term and then it can take years to achieve those skills and qualifications.”

“Currently there is a huge construction boom across the east coast of Australia with extensive commitment from governments for infrastructure and not enough people training for those jobs while in the west there is a downturn in construction which has been tied to the downturn in the minerals industry.”

“On the east coast, not enough people are in training or nearing the completion of their apprenticeships to meet demand and in the west, people are not in training because there is little demand but that will result in a skills gap in the future once the economy improves.”

“This underpins the need for national consistency of standards for qualifications and in delivery.”

“At the same time, our Australian qualifications are highly valued internationally so those with a trade qualification can think globally.”

Robert has worked across a variety of industry sectors, including the agribusiness and building and construction sectors and is currently managing skills development and policy for a national building and construction member-based association.

With three decades of experience developing vocational educational pathways, Robert has seen common issues across industries and throughout that time.

“There is always a skills gap somewhere.  Employers are always looking for skilled workers, people with the right attitude, commitment and time management skills and people that can join a team and add value from day one to a business. The benefit of vocational training is that you can get these skills early and they are very enticing to an employer.

“My advice to young people and job seekers is – get as many skills as you can get.  Whatever those skills may be, because then you always be in demand and also, be prepared to move around, if you can, to follow the work opportunities.

“We know that apprentices and tradies are paid better than some university graduates.”.

“In the construction industry, ninety per cent of businesses are small businesses.  So, with a trade qualification, you are more than likely going to be running a small business and you will need more than just your skills on the tools. Acquiring business skills is important as a lot of tradies are great tradies, but they need better business skills.  They don’t understand things like cash flow and the regulatory regimes.”

Robert likes to travel and is drawn to cities and the built environment, often seeking out the educational institutions and to various vocational training facilities overseas.  He’s interested in the different education pathways and school systems and opportunities to learn and bring back good ideas to further support the continued improvement of Australia’s VET sector.