Better healthcare courses in the offing for future medicos

Boom in healthcare jobs but skill shortages loom

The booming healthcare industry will generate 250,000 new jobs over the next five years fuelled by increased government investment, demand from the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the ageing of the Australian population.

Along with food and accommodation, professional and scientific services and education and training, the four industries will be responsible for around 64 per cent of all new jobs in the economy, according to the National Skills Commission.

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Overall, employment is expected to increase in 17 of the 19 industry groups covered by the Commission’s remit, with only manufacturing, and media and telecommunications, going backwards.

However, there is a bright light even in manufacturing with projected growth in primary metal and metal products manufacturing on the back of COVID-19-based major infrastructure investments and the emergence of a modern manufacturing sector.

The areas of predicted growth suggest risks of skills shortages ahead. While no information is yet available for 2021, Education Department data shows that the number of university places offered for health-related courses between 2016 and 2020 declined slightly from 64,450 to 63,970.

The figures for education fell from 23,720 to 21,660. However, there were small increases in offers for science and IT, with engineering relatively static.

Similar trends can be seen in vocational training enrolments with data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research showing a 10 per cent decline in enrolments for food, hospitality and personal services between 2016-20 and a small drop in education enrolments over that same period.

However, health-related courses saw a 6.8 per cent increase and science courses grew by nearly 4 per cent.

Andrew Norton, an expert in higher education policy from Australian National University, said there was a strong likelihood of skill shortages given current trends, particularly in education.

“There has been a number of very weak years in terms of enrolments in education and at the same time there is a big demographic bubble working its way through the school system,” Mr Norton said.

“The issue of retiring teachers and graduates not lasting a huge amount of time in the profession means teaching needs to keep refuelling its workforce.”

While there were predictions of the teacher workforce being flooded with graduates in the early part of last decade, the impact of NSW and Victoria imposing more stringent entry requirements into teacher education courses was reducing the number of potential students. The imposition of a national literacy and numeracy test for graduating teachers was also having an impact, he said.

“It’s having an impact on demand across the country because people are terrified of doing three or four years and then finding they can’t pass the test,” Mr Norton said.

And while places for science were gradually improving, he said the most popular areas such as biology would continue to be oversubscribed. Engineering would likely bounce back with a boost in demand for construction engineers, he said.

Adam Boyton, the National Skills Commissioner, said it was clear health care and social assistance jobs were the areas of greatest growth.

“Vocational education and training is a pathway into many jobs in this area,” Mr Boyton said.

Megan Lilly, Head of Education and Training with AiGroup, said higher-level skills take time to develop and any dip in enrolments creates problems in the skill pipeline.

“In addition, every worker will require digital literacy and IT specialisation are in increasing shortage,” she added. “This will only worsen.”

Courtesy: Financial Review

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