ACT News

Skills shortage a matter of perspective for optometrists, mechanics

Long gone are the days when optometrist Mark Feltham's profession involved simply selling glasses at a corner shop.

Several years' training and coordination with other health professionals - including clinical psychologists - make it a more complicated matter today.

Dr Feltham's line of work has to tackle other challenges, listed as one of several industries facing a skills shortage in Canberra.

A federal government list last year named glaziers, hairdressers, motor mechanics, bricklayers and cabinetmakers among occupations needing more job applicants in the ACT. 

Some listed shortages - such as in early childhood teaching - are well-known problems for their industries.

However the shortage of new optometrists in Canberra comes despite a forecast for an oversupply last year in Sydney.  

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Canberra's shortage is explained by the need to draw students trained in other cities to the ACT, Dr Feltham said. 

"Getting them away from their social networks is a challenge," he said. 

Of 4500 registered optometrists in Australia, 100 practise in the ACT, Dr Feltham said.

The shortage is noticeable when replacing people retiring from the industry. 

"It's a cyclical thing, with our allied health and health people."

The University of Canberra plans to introduce local optometry courses in 2018 to accommodate the occupation's skills shortage, and is starting ultrasound studies this year to address a lack of sonographers.

Stereotypes about mechanical work were preventing young people from taking up apprenticeships in workshops, Motor Trades Association ACT board member Colin Prest said. 

Some jobs ads placed by mechanics went unanswered. 

Mr Prest, now an apprentice mechanics teacher at the Canberra Institute of Technology, noticed the shortage while working in Wagga Wagga for 20 years. 

"It was tough out there. Now that I've been over in Canberra, it's tough here.

"There's always people in the Canberra region who will have a position for an apprentice mechanic."

Despite the industry's difficulty, Mr Prest said the CIT last year recorded its highest intake of light vehicle mechanics students in eight years, a result he attributes to a shift towards light vehicle work with the mining downturn. 

Well-trained, experienced technicians were in short supply and those fitting the bill could make good money, Mr Prest said. 

"The perception is it's a dirty job, but the days of mechanics being covered in grease and dirt are long gone."

Workshops were cleaner, and a lot of mechanical work involved diagnostics and electronics. 

"That's only going to get more so, with all the talk of automated cars."