Youth programme sees apprentice numbers rise

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Higher apprentice numbers and a growing awareness of industry career opportunities are just some of the positive outcomes of a pioneering programme led by Visual Connections and the Australian Sign & Graphics Association (Asga), with the Australian Schools Industry Partnership (Aussip) in 2019.

Growing: female apprenticeships doubled in 2019
Growing: female apprenticeships doubled in 2019

With the initiative set to expand this year, the programme organisers say the future for improving awareness of industry career benefits among youngsters is looking bright.

Sign & Display apprenticeships in New South Wales were up 21.28 per cent in 2019, with ten additional apprentices signing up for TAFE training. This lift in numbers is just one outcome of a partnership between Visual Connections, Asga and the education liaison team at Aussip.

Peter Harper, CEO of industry suppliers association Visual Connections, said the partnership – which falls under Visual Connections’ Academy initiatives – has now been piloted for a full year in NSW, with a focus on the sign and display industry, with positive results.

“It is no secret that attracting young people, training them, and retaining them, is a major challenge across the entire sector,” Harper said today. “Visual Connections is committed to supporting the future sustainability of the industry, and one of our key areas of focus is attracting young people to the industry and ensuring they have access to the training they need to build their careers.”

For Michael Punch, general manager of Asga, it is also about revealing the wonders and opportunities inherent in sign and graphics careers.

“So many students, parents and careers advisors are simply unaware of the industry and its variety,” he said. “They walk daily through shopping malls, festooned with all forms of signage, yet while plumbers, carpenters and electricians are trades they are familiar with in their homes and workplaces, it’s a different story with sign makers and installers.”

In 2019, AusSIP’s Tina Mavris and John Watters ran the initiative in a number of NSW schools to give students in years 10 and 11 the opportunity to learn about the industry through visits to Ultimo TAFE and Asga members who, Punch said, have been keen to open their doors to give students a hands-on experience and share their passion for the industry. Many students also attended PrintEx19 in Sydney in August as part of the programme.

“For many of the young people we connect with, their contact with us is the first time they’ve ever heard about sign, display and print – let alone considered a career in the sector,” Watters said.

Issues around careers and training are, of course, complex, and recruitment into training is just one outcome, Watters explains, acknowledging that the Sydney pilot is just the start of what is likely to be a long process.“Regardless of whether they are creative, IT-focused, engineering or construction-minded, or simply interested in a varied and challenging career, students who have the opportunity to see what sign, display, engraving, wide-format and other print businesses do every day, and to put that in the context of the many and varied industries which rely on those services, are invariably amazed and impressed. And, importantly, the ‘hands-on’ nature of this program demonstrates that there really are jobs in the industry which are both available and desirable.”

“It’s not enough for students to be convinced about their career direction. Parents, teachers and vocational counsellors all play an important role in helping young people select their post-secondary training, and must be part of any education process,” he pointed out.

“Close liaison with TAFEs and other RTOs is also vital to ensure that there are clear training pathways available. With different systems and multiple providers in each State, that’s also a complex process and one which takes time to work through.
“What is great, however, is that Visual Connections and Asga have identified a long-standing challenge for the industry, and they’re doing something positive about it.”

As well as improving overall awareness, building relationships with schools, industry and training providers, the Sydney pilot has achieved notable success this year in increasing the number of registrations in the Sign & Display TAFE course for 2020.
Particularly pleasing, Harper said, is that five of the new apprentices – half the intake – were female, a result which represents a doubling of female apprenticeships in this category in 2019.

“It’s always pleasing to see young women take up opportunities in our industry, and we’re absolutely delighted to see the number of girls starting these apprenticeships growing to near parity with the boys,” Harper said.

Given the success of the NSW pilot, Harper and Punch said their organisations are keen to continue the partnership and to expand the program from 2020, both to other states in Australia and into different sectors of the industry, with new initiatives to be announced soon.

“Visual Connections believes there is no greater investment that we can make in the future of our industry than in equipping young people to become the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “We look forward to expanding this successful programme across the country and the industry as we seek to support a sustainable future for the sector.”

To find out how your business can be involved in the program contact, or to find out more about AusSIP, go to or watch the video made at PrintEx19.

Future: investing in the print leaders of tomorrow
Future: investing in the print leaders of tomorrow
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