The fire protection sector is going to need a steady supply of skilled workers to replace its aging workforce.
Industries change all the time. New technologies and innovative processes constantly make work more efficient, productive and effective, allowing fewer people to achieve more with limited resources.
The fire-protection sector is no exception and has seen a range of innovative solutions introduced over the last few decades. But the future of our industry is not in our gadgets or guides, it’s in our people: individual practitioners, exercising their professional judgement, keeping people and property safe.
Like other trades, we currently have an ageing population of practitioners, with many of the industry’s stalwarts at, or even beyond, retirement age, and we need a steady source of new entrants to replace them.
Unfortunately, while the opportunities are there, the supply of technicians is not quite as reliable.
Companies are increasingly flustered at the apparent lack of potential employees and aren’t clear how to attract them.
At the same time, training options are limited, with employers often reluctant to pay money to upskill their employees only to have them poached by a competitor.
At our recent Fire Australia 2022 conference, we posed questions to delegates about how the Association should be addressing the skills gap and, in particular, what could be done to address the gender imbalance in our industry. The responses were varied but key suggestions included:
- reaching out to schools, TAFES and universities to promote the industry to students;
- delivering better wages and income stability for new entrants;
- making apprenticeships and training more attractive and available;
- providing clear qualification pathways into the industry and supporting training;
- improving awareness about the industry, including advertising available positions and engaging with diverse communities;
- encouraging retiring practitioners to consider becoming trainers and assessors; and
- possibly even introducing an apprenticeship scheme and/or a mentoring programme.
We are collating all of the responses to this survey and will be announcing some initiatives later this year that we can roll out.
Obviously, we won’t solve the problem by ourselves, but we hope to refocus the industry on the future and to ensure that our members and our allies increase their efforts to attract new participants.
At a time where fire protection is gaining importance in the eyes of government, we owe it to our industry and the community to ensure that we can attract a steady supply of new practitioners, so that people and property can continue to be protected.