Newsmaker: Nicholas Wyman

WPC Group chief executive Nicholas Wyman was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate why Australia has a skills shortage.

THE day Ford announced it was going to lay off 440 people, six months after the government had given the company $34 million, I rang Ford and offered to take on all its apprentices. They were a bit taken aback. They said: "Oh, wait a minute, we're not going to lay anyone off right away."

But I need those apprentices, and I don't think it is sustainable to prop up some of these industries when there are emerging industries that need investment.

The question is: How do we tell young people what new opportunities are available? How do we give them the information they need to make the right career choice? That is where we have a missing link.

Our organisation employs 650 apprentices nationally and I have 100 apprenticeships going begging. Horticulture, automotive and hospitality are desperate for good people. There's a huge shortage of people who want to be chefs, despite the hype about MasterChef.

Another misunderstood trade is automotive. Parents and careers teachers think it's all grease and grime and lying under a car, but these days cars are fairly high-tech. We have apprentices at Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. Those employers want people who have completed year 12, and they set the bar high.

The problem is, people choose a career without knowing what it is like, and now we have youth unemployment that is three or five times higher than the adult rate. Out in Broadmeadows, it was 35.9 per cent this month. In Hawthorn East, where I live, general unemployment is 4 per cent but youth unemploy-ment is 13 per cent. How is that possible? Disengagement? Poor careers advice? Parents who have an idea of a pathway that doesn't suit the child? Meanwhile, employers are saying: "We can't get the job done, we have to bring in 1600 foreign workers to do it."

I don't think welfare helps the situation. One guy said to us last week: "Gee, I get paid more for sitting at home than I do for taking that automotive job." That boy will be very hard to place with an attitude like that.

The Churchill Fellowship will give me time to get to the bottom of how we can keep young people in apprenticeships. I'm going to compare two countries that do this very well, the Netherlands and Germany, and two that are similar to us, France and the UK.

My private boys' school gave me no careers advice. But I found my way into a culinary career, worked for good hotels and represented Australia at the Culinary Olympics in Germany.

When I worked in the UK people said "You're Australian, you're near the sea, you must love fish" so I always ended up in the poissonniere. The Savoy Hotel group arranged its kitchens so that the English chefs did the veg, the Swiss did sauces, the French did pastry and the fish section was run by Australians. It was strange. But I have transferred a lot of my chef skills into my new career. As a chef is how to meet deadlines.

PROFILE

Nicholas Wyman, 44

Where I live: Hawthorn East

What I love: Going to Boroondara Farmers' Market every month to buy fresh produce.

What I'd change: Overhaul parking on Burke Road and make it easy for people to stay longer and support their local traders, who in turn will create more jobs.

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