Get Ready for the Skills Crisis

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.



We did the Woodside LNG Gas Train with 100% of Australian welders which was to ASME B31.3. The project was stick built, X-Ray to a world wide very high standard. The project completed on time. Our trades people are very capable of a high standard of welding.

Jim T

We seem to be losing touch, I finished my trade training in 1981 in a NSW centralised city. Our senior tafe instructor had our class of 12 students complete there DLI 1E certification. Of the class, all obtained their certificate 1 with a couple of the students being awarded their 1E certificate.
Since 1981 the system has gone backwards with the introduction of more and more white noise to the training syllabus.

Alan Copleston

It has always amazed me that when a welding apprentice finnishes a TAFE course they do not get an industry recognised certificate i.e.AS2980 or simmilar.
I asked TAFEWA why this was so and was told it was not in the syllabus.

There is still a lot of ignorance in management regarding qualifications an quality in the industry, many believe that it is just an additional cost. I have spent countless hours trying to convince management of fabrication companies of the benefit of taking up AS 3834 but they don’t understand that if they don’t do it they won’t survive.

Gary Lantzke

The sooner we have a non profit based approach to TAFE the sooner the lecturers can focus on the students and the quality of the learning and not on time!! Well said Geoff

Alex Petrie

I could not agree more. How many TAFE’s have stopped training welders and have got rid of engineering modules all together. Some workplaces do have the capasity to train employees, not many. AS1554 GP/SP would be one of the easiest Standards to comply with. Having worked as a welding Inspector with the Queensland Government I have seen some of the rubbish that has been manufactured overseas and brought into Australia. Governments have vertually abandon Australian Standards and buyers import welded structures into Austarlia using other standards.

Bromely Smith

Great news about the registry. We needed something like this years ago.

I agree with the level of education at tafe. It’s shocking. No trade test is done. You just get signed off not know the level of skill or ability of the welder/fabricator.

Mark Horn

We need to go back to basics with TAFE training and set proper training schedules and standards with failure an option for people who do not meet the required standard. Yes I know failure is not an acceptable option these days as we might hurt some ones delicate feelings and they might cry, but if standards are to be raised we need to be realistic and not pass everyone who turns up. The other issue is lets stop all these stupid cash incentives the government throws at apprentices as this only encourages poor performance. Until some disciplinary powers are given back to the TAFE teachers nothing will improve.
As I say we do have a skills shortage, that is a shortage of skill not a shortage of people. There are plenty of unskilled tradesman available, they just don’t have the skill to do the basics of their trade. It is an unfair burden on business to pay tradesman wages to people who don’t have tradesman skills.

Dieter Galuszka

AS1796 welder certification does also create competent welders. The biggest issue in Australia is getting competent welders who can weld all positions, all processes in a shop/field environment with experience. Welding on a workbench does not make a good competent welder. Make them weld the coupons under the bench which would be a bit more like reality. Experience is what counts and is lacking in Australian welders. Heavy Engineering is very few and far between, this is where the welders get experience.

William (Bill) Meikle

Too many so called Industry Managers have taken the easy route and imported workers to fill there requirements on specific projects. As the project is finished the workers are tossed out again. The managers say there is not enough skilled people to carry out the work but none of them think of anything further than their nose. Each one of them tries to under quote the other to get the work. This is fine if they are all paying the same for training workers for the countries future needs. This is not the case.
There were large government institutions and large companies in the past who employed and trained large numbers of apprentices each year, which kept the number of quality trained workers at a realistic level. Tafe also gave the apprentices and adult tradesmen the realistic training courses required at a reasonable cost, and reasonable time to absorb the quality training given. The results speak for themselves.
Changes to large government bodies such as Sydney Water, NSW Railways, Prospect Electricity etc and closure of some of large companies, have ensured the number and quality of tradies will never be the same, unless the governments immediately carry out some realistic changes. Tafe requires better funding. Tafe and private training centres should have to ensure their training is of a high standard proven by results. Companies requiring trades personnel pay for the training to ensure supply.

Barry Bennett

Of course welders are getting less & less skilled as there training hours get less, companies don’t want them to be at college as it cuts production, training establishments push for the courses to be done in the shortest time possible not the nominal hours recommended so they get more money for less hours, they also cut back on materials to save money. TAFE will not invest in new equipment some welding machines 30 years old & make lecturers oxy cut bevels on flat bar for butt welds when they should be in the bays teaching as TAFE will not buy the material needed. Have a look at training hours for welders in other countries its nearly twice as much as Aus.

Shareef Khan

Welding is not the most talked about language in today’s generation as most focus is given to computers these days. This is not even listed in skill shortage as there is little knowledge of what specialized welding is than to basic general purpose welds. The current generation feels that every work can be carried out with machines controlled by computers . Yes some sectors of manufacturing can employ robots for welding but many jobs cannot be completed without the old traditional way of manual welding which in fact requires high levels of skills. Welding procedures and qualification of welders are regarded as additional costs to many manufacturers as they try to cut down costs. Many come up with ideas that these are not required as they have been manufacturing the same items for past 20 to 30 years and no one has ever asked for these papers. These costs are not built in even when jobs are tendered and there are nasty surprises afterwards.
it is about time that the governments start thinking seriously about skill shortages in specialized welding as having a title of a WELDER does not mean that you can weld anything.

Simon Bennett

I thank the WTIA for having some backbone (seems to be redundant now) with the policy makers in this country. This is only one of the many issues facing modern business. We are a micro-business (6 staff) building aluminium boats up to 15mtrs. You think finding a tradesmen to weld steel is hard! Try aluminium. Last time we advertised on “seek” we had more overseas applicants than Aussies. So we thought we`ll try some 457 guy`s……..what happens next…..the government pulls that away. Stay small and compact in this country and you may just survive. Thanks for the effort.

Ernest B.Day

Having been a welding and metal fab teacher in TAFE for 17 years I am in full agreement with the above comments. We were expected, every year, to do more with less time and materials, in the face of ever increasing technology bringing in more subject matter. I learned my trade (boilermaker) in the boiler shop at Cockatoo docks. Friends in my hobby club (Hornsby Model Engineers) marvel at my ability to stick weld in any position. I tell them that the management would not turn the ship over so the welding could be done on the flat. At age 90 I still enjoy doing it. The current state government has destroyed TAFE and sent our engineering industry off shore. Australia is now Paul Keating’s ‘Banana Republic’ . Very sad situation.

Thomas Mitchell

Take the apprentices at 17 . At 20 , 21 they are to old and have developed bad habbits already.

Fed up

No goverment regulation any more. It’s a lost cause, big buisness will always take the cheapest option regardless of quality and risk.

Gary Mitchie

Everyone is ringing the warning bell and years ago there was a TV advertisement showing “tradesmen/tradeswomen” in cages and the backdrop was Parliament House from memory, bring back the advertisement as it says it all and it is now real time?

I cannot see it getting better for our children and grandchildren.

Justin gregory

As a boikermaker/welder in the ship building industry i can say its not easy, and it dose require a fair amount of skill. As a second class welder at the start of the project i was over looked for a position in the early days, but after achieving welders cert. I was given the opportunity to work on the project, my point is there needs to be a greater insentive for employer’s to help qualify 2nd class trades people and up skill there work forces to improve quality and productivity. Tgere are some exelent trades people already in the workforce that dont make enough dollars to pay crazy amounts to get tickets and cert’s. Manufacturing needs something like the construction industry already has to heavily subsidized training programs

Benjamin Hoareau

Issues regarding qualification in the Boilermaking industry has and will always be an issue. In every aspect of learning there are necessary classifications and qualifications according to different industries. Therein lies the predicament that ‘Boilermaking’ as a whole is too general.

Engineering studies have many divergent fields (Mechanical, aerospace, electrical,mecatronics, etc.) all which require necessary units of study for each discipline; Fabrication does not have that imperative classification or learning avenues (Structural steel, sheet metal, pipe fitting, boilermaking, etc).

More emphasis needs to be placed into the diversity of the fabrication field, throughout the current educational curriculum apprentices are not even told what a flange is, proper fabrication techniques or enough theory to provide a proper education.

The problem lies within the inadequate time given to apprentices at school, blame is mostly placed on the teachers, alas how can one tradesman teach 30 students with only `1200 hours of training? That is an average of 40 hours per apprentice of on-to-one time with a tradesman over the three years. Not including the abuse of apprentices with the majority of companies just used as cheap labour; that alone is a separate issue with the industry which I believe is the source of “Not being able to find anyone”. Also the negligence of the apprentice training groups who are contracted to ensure apprentices receive adequate tasks and work related training; During the lifetime of my apprenticeship was only seen once, the signup of the contract.


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