Scone High School principal Brian Drewe wants local business owners to see the school as an employment agency.
Drewe was discussing the Department of Education’s School-Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships (SBATs) program, where Year 11 and 12 students combine their HSC studies with industry-specific training, as well as spending one day a week in paid employment with a local firm.
While the program has been successful in the local health and early childhood learning sectors, others sectors have been reluctant to engage with the program.
“We get very few phone calls from local businesses people asking if we have any students we would recommend,” Drewe said.
“But, when we do they’re usually very happy with the outcome. They find our recommendations on the suitability of a particular student for their workplace were pretty accurate.
“If employers are prepared to put some energy, time and money into our local kids they’re usually glad they did.”
For students, school-based apprenticeships and traineeships are more than just part-time jobs – they’re a great way for them to set themselves up for a career while they complete their HSC, says Drewe.
For employers, taking on a school-based apprentice or trainee is a win-win: training costs are minimised and a young worker is tailor-made for them – trained in their way of running their business and ready to begin full-time work after completing the HSC.
Employers pay their young trainee or apprentice the same wage they would if they were casual employees, with the school and RTO provider doing most of the program set-up.
Scone High School has had school-based trainees for more than 20 years, but numbers fluctuate due to student interest and employers’ willingness to take them on.
Each year Hunter New England Health takes a nursing trainee, while Yellow Cottage and the Upper Hunter Early Learning Centre regularly take a childcare trainee. However, while the school is able to deliver training in areas such as metal fabrication, hospitality and business services, no local employers have taken up the opportunity.
“I think trade and industry employers feel it’s a fair bit of work for them to do to get a student for just one day a week, so they wait until they are at a more employable age, when they can work fulltime and drive themselves to work sites,” Drewe said.
There are other limitations: work can sometimes impact on the student’s school or sporting activities, and take second place to their family life.
All of which call for flexibility, goodwill and a determination to overcome the issues that inevitably arise on both sides.
Drewe urged Scone firms that currently employ students casually one or two days a week to offer them a traineeship.
“It costs them no more, but the student gets the benefit of Certificate-level training,” he said.
“There is no exhaustive application process, they don’t have to advertise widely, it’s a simple interview process with the kids. The employee finds an employer who’s right for them and the employer finds a great employee who is more likely to remain with the company full-time after they leave school.”
The principal knows first-hand just how hard it is to attract teachers from the cities and coast to Scone and believes local businesses will find it increasingly difficult to attract quality workers.
“Scone business owners will find it much easier to look locally and invest in our kids,” Drewe said.
“Big cities are attractive to kids leaving school and I have a sense that Scone is losing a lot of quality kids. Once they leave they don’t tend to come back.
“We spend a lot of time and effort growing good people, so we should do our best to keep them here.”
The shortage of workers is a nationwide problem, but more severe in rural Australia.
“Regional towns like Scone need its young people to stay, work and raise families,” Drewe added.
“We need them here, not living five minutes from the beach.”