At a recent roundtable forum hosted by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), leading company directors demanded that policymakers do more to address an emerging skills crisis in the Australian workforce, and urged business to play a far more active role in helping develop the workers of the future.
According to AICD deputy chairman Gene Tilbrook, policymakers are “ducking the real issue” around addressing an emerging skills crisis that is being hidden by the nation’s strong employment data. “When you talk about 5.7% unemployment, it is really that and then 9% underemployment,” said Tilbrook.
When it comes to the welding and fabricating industry, the issue is that very few Australian welders possess the skill level required to undertake work on major projects in industries such as defence, shipbuilding, aerospace, and infrastructure.
On-site testing of welders to ensure compliance to relevant International and Australian Standards currently delivers failure rates of 80% for AS 1554, and close to 100% for ISO 9606-1.
The cost associated with testing a welder to these Australian Standards is considerable—upwards of $1,000 per test. Not surprisingly then, testing and re-testing welders on a per-project basis, only to have them fail, costs companies and the Australian industrial sector a substantial amount of money.
The potential shortfall in qualified welders that will be required to deliver the Commonwealth’s ambitious $100 billion defence equipment programs must be addressed now.
Governments, businesses, industry and training organisations must work together to ensure that all new defence equipment is built by Australian welders and that defence contractors have no reason or excuse for importing skilled labour to deliver these projects.
The lack of highly skilled Australian welders stems from poor quality early training. TAFE simply does not receive the funds required to deliver high-quality technical vocational training to Australians. Our governments treat TAFE as a business—not as infrastructure—expecting increased revenue year-on-year.
This is why the Weld Australia (formerly known as the WTIA) is working with TAFEs across Australia to ensure a consistent standard of welding training and pre-TAFE training to help school leavers understand vocational training, developing Advanced Welder Training Centres, and urging the federal and state governments to step up and support TAFE.
We have also launched the Australian Welder Certification Register (AWCR), which lists all welders who have achieved accreditation to ISO 9606-1.
Together with TAFEs and industry, Weld Australia is committed to helping Australian welders, suppliers and contractors upskill the workforce. Together, we can ensure that the requirements of defence industry primes can be met, and secure the future of the Australian welding industry.