Weld Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s New Energy Apprenticeships program, and the updated Australian Apprenticeships Priority List. The financial support provided by the initiatives will be a drawcard for some businesses and apprentices. However, according to Weld Australia, much more must be done to tackle the nation’s deficient of skilled welders.
Weld Australia is calling for a radical three-pronged approach to overcome the nation’s skilled welder shortage that includes: an overhaul of welder training; a focus on STEM training in schools; and investment in TAFEs nationally.
According to Geoff Crittenden (CEO, Weld Australia), “There is no magic solution to Australia’s skills crisis. We need a radical approach. The same old approach that we’ve taken for years will not arm Australia with the skilled workers needed to deliver the record number of projects we’re seeing in industries like defence, renewables and infrastructure.”
“A veritable army of skilled workers, including welders, will be required to build and install the infrastructure needed to achieve the Federal Government’s 43% emissions reductions target by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Unless action is taken now, Australia will be at least 70,000 welders short by 2030.”
“It truly is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”
“The Federal Government has committed to spending over $95 million to support 10,000 new apprenticeships under the New Energy Apprenticeships program, and another $1 billion on a 12-month Skills Agreement that promises to deliver 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places to priority groups in 2023. While these initiatives will provide welcome financial incentives for both employers and their apprentices, this is just one small piece of the puzzle. These initiatives alone will not solve the skills crisis.”
“Little thought appears to have been given to encouraging young people into an apprenticeship. This is why STEM training in schools must be a focus. We need to educate kids, and their parents, so that they understand all the opportunities available in a career in welding.”
“Similarly, there has been no additional funding allocated to TAFEs to enable the delivery of the training for all these federally funded additional places. This is why governments must invest in TAFEs nationally. TAFE requires proper funding to invest in new technology and equipment to better prepare graduates for the workplace.”
“A welding apprenticeship currently takes three years to complete. New welders will not be qualified until at least 2026 and, even then, will not be skilled or experienced. We simply won’t have the skilled welders required to build and instal the green energy infrastructure to meet the 2030 targets. This is why Weld Australia proposes that the current welding apprenticeship is condensed into one year,” said Crittenden.
“Welder training courses also need to be overhauled. The TAFE welding course and curriculum has not been updated or revised since 1998. Welding is an exciting, innovative, and dynamic industry – but the training offered to aspiring welders is dry and static. Weld Australia is working to overcome this, releasing advanced learning resources for the MEM training package that keep kids engaged and enthusiastic. These resources are already in use in WA, but need to be rolled out nationally.”
The Federal Government recently added an extra 39 occupations to the Australian Apprenticeships Priority List. The list has grown to encompass 111 occupations, as Australia continues to struggle with skills shortages across a range of different sectors—particularly welding and fabrication.
Several occupations related to welding and fabrication were added to the Priority List, including Welder, Pressure Welder, Fitter, Metal Fabricator, Metal Machinist, Metal Casting Trades Worker, Sheetmetal Trades Worker, and Blacksmith. In fact, 11% of the occupations included in the Priority List are now related to welding.
Occupations on the Priority List are eligible for financial support through the Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System. A wage subsidy of 10% is provided to businesses in the first and second year, and then it drops to 5% in the third year. Up to $5,000 in direct payments is made to apprentices across two years.
“The skills crisis is not unique to Australia; the US fabrication industry will face a shortage of 500,000 welders by 2030, and by 2050 Japan will need around 250,000 welders,” said Crittenden.
“This global shortfall of welders is driving most developed nations to implement extraordinary measures to resolve it. Australia must follow suit. We need a practical, actionable plan that can be implemented now to overcome the welder skills shortage—a plan that delivers more than just financial support to employers.”
“We must take three key actions to overcome the nation’s skilled welder shortage: welder training courses must be overhauled; STEM training in schools must be a focus; and our governments must invest in TAFEs nationally,” said Crittenden.
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FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT WELD AUSTRALIA’S THREE KEY ACTIONS
1. An Overhaul of Welding Apprenticeships
The existing Certificate III in Engineering (Fabrication) is a nominal 720 hours of face-to-face teaching at a TAFE interspersed with practical experience in the workplace via an apprenticeship. This is spread over three years. Weld Australia proposes that the current course is condensed into one year. The existing training package will remain unchanged but will be taught in two 24-week blocks consisting of 14 weeks of face-to-face training, and 10 weeks of Structured On the Job Training (SOJT) in the workplace. Once an apprenticeship is complete, competency will be assessed and the Certificate III qualification awarded. Graduates will then be required to qualify to ISO 9606, the internationally recognised standard for welding competency. The shorter course will be less daunting to school leavers and will encourage mature aged applicants. Training will be more intensive and is therefore likely to be more efficient. The number of apprentices graduating should increase, and the skills of welders should increase dramatically.
2. Refocussing STEM Training in Schools
STEM training in schools must be refocused to showcase the opportunities in trades and encourage women and other underrepresented groups into careers in STEM. Weld Australia has been working with the New South Wales Department of Education for the past three years on an Advanced Manufacturing School Outreach Program for schools. Weld Australia proposes that this Program be rolled out nationally.
3. Investment in TAFEs Nationally
It is imperative that sufficient investment be made in the TAFE system to ensure that it is a world class technical teaching organisation capable of meeting Australia’s demand for skilled tradespeople. Weld Australia proposes that funding properly reflect the cost of infrastructure, equipment, time, and materials required to teach to internationally recognised Standards.