Welder shortage threatens Australian jobs on ships and submarines

HOLDEN workers can go from the auto floor to being “gate ready” to weld ships and submarines — but the State Government isn’t interested, the Welding Technology Institute of Australia says.

Weld Australia (formerly known as the WTIA) chief executive officer Geoff Crittenden told The Advertiser of his frustration that workers could be missing out, as experts say a shortage of welders is one of the defence industry’s biggest challenges.

Hundreds of welders with international level accreditation will be needed, and Mr Crittenden wants to make that possible through an Intelligent Welder Training Facility.

In a proposal to the State Government, he says he wants to partner with TAFE SA to build a hub with the latest technology to upskill and train workers to transition from the automotive industry to shipbuilding. The cost would be under a million dollars.

“All we’ve got is bureaucratic obfuscation, endless meetings,” Mr Crittenden said, saying he’d been fobbed off by Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith in June.

“We’ve even offered to put the guys out of Holden through this process so they can get shipbuilding jobs and they’re not interested.”

Welder Rob Wheatland working at Attard Engineering Fabrication and Machine shop at Edwardstown. Picture: Dylan Coker

Mr Crittenden said there were simply not enough highly qualified Australian welders, which means the companies building ships and submarines will have to bring in overseas workers. “There’ll be a lot less Australian jobs. They’ll be coming from France, from Spain,” he said.

Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith’s office responded, saying the planned Naval Shipbuilding College would determine and manage the skills required and arrange retraining or upskilling.

The college is due to start next year but will take time to get up to speed.

“We need welders … who are gate-ready. If we don’t do something now, it will just be a joke,” Mr Crittenden said.

“There won’t be any Australians in the yards.”

Education Minister Susan Close said the proposal had just come her way last week, and that she had asked TAFE SA to do some due diligence and report back to her. “I expect this advice shortly,” she said.

Former SA Senator Nick Xenophon said Australia needed to “solder on”.

“Unless we act now, we’re looking at importing up to 500 welders from overseas which would be unforgivable. We’ve got Australians who can take these jobs and do a first-class job,” he said.

Foreign workers could be needed to fill the gap if enough high class welders are not available. Picture: Dylan Coker

At the Submarine Institute of Australia’s conference in Adelaide, several speakers warned about workforce shortages. The Australian Industry Group particularly warned of the need for skilled welders. Head of Workforce Development Megan Lilly said some workers from the auto industry could and should be upskilled.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the Federal Government had committed $25 million to the College and that a preferred supplier would be announced in about a month.

Spanish shipbuilder Navantia has said it would support such a facility if it wins the $30 billion Future Frigates bid; however it may not and, anyway, that would not cover the $50 billion submarine project.

Welder Rob Wheatland, from Attard Engineering at Edwardstown, said he was up to a Certificate 8, but young people needed access to the process.

“I think it is a good idea; I love my welding. I’ve been doing it for 33 years,” he said.

Source: The Advertiser, South Australia