Will radio lure Gen Y and beyond?

By Kylie Rhodes
Wednesday, 25 July, 2012

Getting the right balance of new people coming into an industry and balancing the number of those leaving is a problem that besets most professions and trades from time to time.

The radio industry is no exception. RF engineers are at a premium and even those wanting to come in at a lower level seemingly prefer the more glamorous and well-paid IT industry.

In 2006, Bruce Kendall, then program manager at the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development of the Victorian Government, wrote an article addressing skill shortages in the radio communications and electronics industries. Kendall mentions that “it could be argued that although knowledge was gained about computers, an equal amount was lost about electronics”.

Interest in radio has traditionally started at an early age and, through amateur radio clubs, has often developed into a lifetime passion. And interest is still there.

Mal Brooks, manager of the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) that looks after the interest of amateurs, says there has been a steady increase in membership and the number of clubs.

“At WIA we have an affiliation with clubs and we have seen an increase over four years (2008-2012) from 92 to 109 clubs. We have also seen an individual membership increase from 4300 to 4600 over the same period of time.”

Brooks said that the institute is still involved with programs like Scouts that encourage younger children to get involved and be passionate about radio.

“Amateur clubs may be seen today to be less obvious and small (around 40-50 people) but they are definitely still around.”

So people are still interested despite the distractions of smartphones and the internet.

However, the number of electronics and radio trade courses has waned, according to Leo Walton, a teacher at SkillsTech Australia.

“There has been a small decline in enrolments and a decline in the number of qualified teachers. Retirements have reduced the numbers by almost 50%.

“Our campus is one of only two offering Certificate III Radio Trades Apprentice Training in all of Queensland and Northern Territory. We can pretty safely say that the employment of apprentices in the industry has also dropped off.

“As of this year, the trade qualification we offer will be a common four-year stream for all disciplines. Previously students could branch into radio communications from third year into fourth year. This was then reduced to a trade-specific stream in fourth year. Now something of everything is taught to all students across all four years and this stems from insufficient numbers to fill the specific classes and too few teachers.”

However, it is not all doom and gloom; Walton is optimistic about the future.

“I think the opportunities in our industry are enormous. The log jam does not lie with young people wanting to be involved. It lies with business owners taking up the challenge of satisfying the needs of a new type of customer, bridging the gap between what was a commercial ‘two-way’ customer base to something that bridges domestic and commercial activities at a pace they are unfamiliar with until now.”

So where do we go from here? Somehow we must make radio more glamorous and attractive. This is something that needs to start early on, even during primary school and certainly in secondary school.

Unfortunately, this desirable stimulation is about as unfashionable as science in general, but if we are to retain any sort of technical credibility in radio engineering we need to stimulate an interest in students so they will go on to be specialists or be inspired to teach.

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