This time last year, when someone asked me for a yearly outlook, all I was prepared to say was that market conditions in 2021 would be uncertain. I was right. 2021 has been just as unpredictable as 2020, with further border closures and restrictions.
Unfortunately, I suspect 2022 will be just as uncertain, albeit for different reasons. The overriding problem may not be COVID-19. Instead, the industry could face a severe shortage of skilled labour.
A salways slack of skill ppeople
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Australian industry was already facing a looming labor crisis, including a severe shortage of skilled and skilled welders. According to feedback from Weld Australia members, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this shortage. The industry is facing a labor shortage, from welding supervisors and inspectors to welders. Finding competent, qualified and experienced welders is becoming more and more difficult.
Welders are in greater demand than ever with several large-scale, high-value projects on the horizon, from the federal government’s $90 billion shipbuilding program to major infrastructure projects such as the Sydney Metro project of $12 billion and the Melbourne of $5 billion. Airport rail link.
And yet, the number of welders in Australia has fallen by 8% in just five years; from 75,800 in 2014 to 69,600 in 2019. Additionally, completion rates for welding apprenticeships, including an Engineering Certificate III (manufacturing trade), continue to drop by up to 23% per year.
Australia is also home to a rapidly aging welding workforce, with around 30% of Australia’s existing welding workforce over the age of 45. This high proportion of older skilled workers, particularly welders, highlights the looming problems sectors like defense are likely to face when baby boomers finally reach retirement age. Welding positions will simply become impossible to fill, especially given the increased demand predicted with several large-scale, high-value projects on the horizon.
This shortage of welders has been fueled by a lack of short-term workers and immigrants as our international borders are closed due to COVID-19. Members of Weld Australia reported that there simply wasn’t the same pool of labor available to complete the job.
Industry youRain of initiatives
Australian industry is not taking this skills shortage head-to-head. The industry is quickly realizing that it cannot continue to rely on the government to solve the problem. There must be a “pull” strategy that involves students through close collaboration between schools and businesses.
A member of Weld Australia, JRS Manufacturing is a strong proponent of this type of “pull” strategy. Based in Toowoomba, JRS Manufacturing recently established its own skills academy. The skills academy not only trains people to work in their own businesses, but also in other businesses in Toowoomba. Weld Australia is set to work with JRS to help ensure the long-term success of this exceptional initiative, which will launch later this year.
Similarly, fellow Weld Australia member Precision Metal Group (PMG) has begun partnering with Parramatta Marist High School to develop a metals and welding training program in 2020. The shared vision is to have more and more students exposed to industry and certified as an armored vehicle. welders before graduating from Parramatta Marist, providing them with pathways underpinned by a skill set sought after by the Australian Defense Force. To begin with, Year 10 iSTEM students rotate through fortnightly two-hour basic welding skills workshops, while self-appointed students undergo intensive welding training at PMG’s facilities. at Wetherill Park.
Australian welding and fabrication companies need to invest in the future of their own workforce and play an active role in training welders. Australia will need an additional 28,000 welders by 2030 based on the existing work pipeline. Industry has a vital role to play in fulfilling these roles.
Innovative youtechnological ssolutions
Australian industry is also developing and investing in advanced technologies to help address looming skills shortages. Automation, robotics and collaborative robots (also known as cobots) are changing the way the welding and manufacturing industries operate.
According to a recent report commissioned by Google, automation has the power to boost Australia’s national income by $2.2 trillion by 2030 through productivity gains. This includes a $1 trillion increase from accelerating the rate of automation and a $1.2 trillion increase in the transition of the Australian workforce to higher skilled occupations.
Weld Australia members have demonstrated extraordinary innovation and invested in cutting-edge technology to maintain production schedules and grow their businesses through an incredibly challenging period over the past two years. It is this ability to innovate that has continued to ensure that Australian manufacturers are resilient, profitable and easily able to compete on the global stage.
Many of our local SMEs are at the cutting edge of research and development. For example, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Industry 4.0 methodologies and technologies developed by Queensland-based Weld Australia member IR4 are setting global benchmarks for efficiency. It is for this reason that IR4 (in partnership with Weld Australia and QUT) is engaging with global contractors to enhance their welding cobot capabilities for large projects.
The ARC Training Center for Collaborative Robotics in Advanced Manufacturing is an industry program working to accelerate the pace of cobot adoption in Australian industry. The Center was created as part of the ARC Liaison Program – Industrial Transformation Training Centers. Its objective is to federate manufacturing companies and universities to develop collaborative robotic applications. Queensland University of Technology (QUT) acts as the administering organization and Weld Australia is a partner in the centre. Other industry partners involved include InfraBuild, IR4 and LA Services.
Government ssupport -or Iack youof which
Clearly, Australian welding and fabrication companies are investing in the future of their own workforce and playing an active role in training welders. At the same time, local industry is taking advantage of the multitude of benefits offered by advanced technologies such as cobots. Increasingly, advanced technology is becoming a critical factor in the success of globally competitive welders, fabricators and fabricators.
However, local industry needs support from federal and state governments, as well as private industry. According to recent industry analysis, prefab imports continue to rise. As of September 30, 2021 (at the current rate), imports of manufactured products are expected to reach 950,000 tons for 2021, an increase of 15% compared to the previous year.
This same industry analysis confirmed that China continues to be the top importing country for fabricated steel products. This is despite China imposing significant import bans and taxes on a range of Australian products, from coal to wine and seafood.
You don’t have to look too far to find examples of imported fabricated steel. The Cross River rail project in Brisbane required two shoring tower systems, each consisting of 139t of steel. One of the towers was sourced locally, the other relocated. Similarly, the construction of the new 42,000 m² Woolworths distribution center in south-east Queensland required 1,200 t of imported steel.
These kinds of short-sighted sourcing decisions make local market conditions impossible for local manufacturers. We need a commitment from federal and state governments to increase local content levels for all sourcing decisions. We need big companies to award local contracts to local companies.
The strength of Australia’s sovereign capacity depends on Australian investment in Australia. It may be cheaper in the short term to buy from places like China, but that only weakens our economy.
If we do this, then local businesses will be able to invest even more in their own businesses and strengthen our manufacturing industry from within. Business innovation encourages the creation of new, strong and sustainable businesses and the creation of new and better jobs, which together promote a move towards higher living standards. Business investment in innovation is essential to our continued prosperity. But this can only be fully realized with the outsourcing of manufacturing work by federal and state governments, as well as large corporations.