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Peter Keep is a jewellery trade lecturer and WA state director of the JAA
Peter Keep is a jewellery trade lecturer and WA state director of the JAA

SOS – Save Our Skills

You’ve heard it said countless times that the jewellery industry has changed forever, manufacturing in particular, and the advice to adapt to change or perish are hard words to swallow. But that is the reality.

Industry Darwinism favours the fittest.

Jewellery apprentices and their lecturers have been dealing with Industry Darwinism for some time, trying to adapt to changing manufacturing processes and declining numbers but (please pardon my analogies, I’ve overloaded on documentaries lately) the dinosaur-killing meteorite has been delivered in the shape of massive TAFE budget cuts.

Jewellery manufacture, as an accredited trade course, could be on its last legs.

There are five TAFEs nationally that deliver the jewellery apprentice course (Certificate III in jewellery manufacture). It is the only industry-recognised course.

A typical jewellery apprentice would learn while they earn at a workplace, and attend TAFE one day a week or in block periods. Students attend TAFE for three years; the fourth year is spent on the job.

I don’t know of any workplace that truly teaches the complete course with all skills necessary to be a competent, confident and versatile jeweller – that’s because TAFE plays a vital role filling the skills gaps that aren’t covered at work.

There has always been a difference of opinion as to the value of the institutionalised involvement but, personally, as TAFE lecturer I have had nothing but encouragement for my contribution to the apprentice training in Western Australia.

But all TAFEs nationally have incurred a critical drop in apprentice enrolments. Currently, there are only 123 jewellery apprentices nationally and most class sizes have halved in the past five years. What’s more, TAFEs cannot run a class if the intake is too low.

Although I am the only jewellery trade lecturer in WA and have 28 apprentices on my books, I am one of the first victims of the “meteorite”.

My teaching hours have been reduced. I am now a part-time lecturer and have had to reschedule my classes and combine all three years into the same class. This means I have less student contact time and students will not have access to the same course content as in previous years.

The other TAFEs are also facing radical changes and have even been informed that there is no guarantee of running the trade course in the conventional way if numbers fall further. The future role of the lecturer could eventually be geared towards work visits only to assess progress.

The writing has been on the wall for some time and the JAA has been proactive working with many TAFEs, exploring various options. But now the time has come for us, as an industry, to lobby and support our apprentice program or invest in a different training model. It’s up to us!

So how are we going to survive? Ponder these suggestions.

I believe there are two types of workshops and two general reasons not to employ an apprentice; the not-so-busy workshop, which can’t commit or afford an apprentice and; the far-too-busy workshop, which can’t afford the time to train an apprentice.

The JAA is currently exploring the option of apprentice-sharing between not-so-busy workshops.

I believe a solution for the far-too-busy workshop is the pre-apprentice course (Certificate II in jewellery manufacture), which covers basic bench skills and safety disciplines – a head start for apprentices.

Then there is a full-time trade course option, which I have no doubt, I could fill a classroom with students tomorrow. What I couldn’t guarantee is a job for all graduates.

Radical changes to training our future jewellers will not happen overnight. We need to protect the model that is in place right now. That means we need to act now.

If you think jewellery apprenticeships are vital to this industry, visit

While on the site, consider asking: Why do other vulnerable trades, such as watchmaking and printing, have access to special funding to keep them going?

And why, after six years of lobbying, is it that jewellery manufacture is one of the only trades yet to get the "Tools For Your Trade" grant?

Peter Keep is a jewellery trade lecturer and WA state director of the JAA

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Monday, 26 August, 2019 01:52pm
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