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Southern Spars - North Technology

Victorian boatbuilders - Up the creek without a paddle

by John Zammit on 31 Jul 2012
boat building - in demand but what institutions will offer training .. ©
Had an interesting conversation with a Melbourne boatbuilder last week that rang in frustration regarding the fact that there is no longer any formal training available for his boatbuilding apprentices in Victoria.

The only TAFE-based, government-subsidized boatbuilding course in Victoria, run by Victoria University (VU) at its Newport campus, is closing down. The reason cited is State Government funding cuts to TAFE, which means a reduction in revenues requiring them to change their business models.

Less than two years ago, in 2010, VU announced plans to relocate their boatbuilding apprenticeship and pre apprenticeship programs to a brand new facility at the Williamstown Maritime Association’s ‘Seaworks’ premises on Williamstown’s waterfront. That relocation never occurred

Late last year, Member for Williamstown, Wade Noonan, speaking in Parliament suggested that the State Government tap into the $3.4m funding grant provided to VU in 2008 specifically to relocate its boatbuilding school from Newport to Williamstown and, redistribute those funds through Skills Victoria to help maintain the boatbuilding course until such time as an agreement is struck to save this vitally important program.

Ben Scullin of the Boating Industry Association of Victoria (BIAV) said, 'The Victorian boating industry is in danger of losing a generation of apprentices.' According to Scullin, last year around 40 students were enrolled in the boatbuilding courses. Earlier this year there were around 23 apprentices either signed up with, or waiting to be signed up to apprenticeships but, According to Scullin, due to the lack of suitable TAFE courses, there are now only 4 of those apprentices left in a system that will have no suitable course for them to attend after their first year.

The BIAV has been working with Gordon TAFE who has put forward a business case to government suggesting that for seed funding of $750k the Gordon could pick up the course, which VU has discontinued. To date there’s been no commitment to provide the funds.

According to a report by Ernst & Young (2008) about the economic value of boating to the Victorian economy, just in Port Phillip and Western Port alone, was valued at just under $1 billion per annum, add the rest of Victoria and… Well it soon adds up. The same report concluded that the boating industry around those two bays generated 13,420 full time jobs.

The report went further, adding that putting those numbers in perspective they equate to; around two thirds the impact of the Port of Melbourne operations; comparative to the impact of Melbourne Airport and, approximately 7 times the value of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

Co-incidentally, Racing Victoria recently received nearly $80m from the government and, for that matter Circus Oz was given $18m towards relocating their facilities.

Given those numbers it seems incredulous to me that for the sake of $750k we are in danger of losing valuable boatbuilding skills training in Victoria that’s vital in keeping the industry going into the future and, If we don’t get it? Then the boatbuilding industry in Victoria is likely to find itself ‘up the proverbial creek without the skills to build a paddle’ (pun intended).
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