Small businesses are walking away from Australia’s TAFE-based system of apprenticeships and vocational training in increasing numbers, a new survey of more than 4000 businesses has revealed.
The number of businesses with fewer than 10 employees engaged with the national vocational training system dropped from 51.7% in 2005 to just 45.7% in 2007, according to the survey of business owners by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.
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By contrast, both medium and large business increased their utilisation of job-focused training, medium sized businesses from 72.8% in 2005 to 75.1% in 2007 and large business from 94.8% in 2005 to 95.1% in 2007.
Sandra Pattison, the general manager of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, says the result suggests vocational training providers are not meeting the needs of small business.
“With small businesses the training isn’t the main driver, but they will only pay for it if they can see a direct benefit they are getting, so what these results suggest is it’s really not meeting their business needs,” Pattison says.
One explanation for the shift is that small businesses have not been receptive to a shift away from practical skills focus in vocational training.
Chris Lamont, industry policy senior executive director with the Housing Industry Association, says this, along with a lack of time to organise training in busy small businesses, is likely to underlie the survey result.
“A lot of the vocation training is too theory-based and doesn’t provide the skills focus that most small business are looking for,” Lamont says. “Bigger businesses sometimes absorb training costs even if they’re not seeing results, but small businesses are on the cutting edge and if they don’t see a practical edge in something they vote with their feet.”
Surprisingly, the survey also found that small businesses were much less likely to report problems in finding new staff, with 45.8% saying they had no difficulty finding staff and 17% saying they had not sought any new staff over the past two years.
While the reasons for this result are unclear, Australian Industry Group associate director of education and training Megan Lilly says the result suggests small businesses approach staffing issues differently from their larger competitors.
“They tend to work much closer to the ground, using word-of-mouth and other informal means to find the workers they need – they’ve developed that as a means of success that suits them,” Lilly says.