Like every industry around the world, the Australian welding industry is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to comments by members of Weld Australia, the main challenge faced across the industry is a shortage of labour, from welding supervisors and inspectors, all the way to welders. Finding competent, skilled and experienced welders is becoming more and more difficult.
Welders are in greater demand than ever with many large, high-value projects on the horizon, from the federal government’s $90 billion offshore shipbuilding program, to major infrastructure projects like the $12 billion Sydney Metro project, and $5 billion in Melbourne. Airport Railroad Link.
However, the number of welders in Australia fell by 8 per cent in just five years; From 75,800 in 2014 to 69,600 in 2019. In addition, completion rates for welder apprenticeships, including C3 in engineering (manufacturing trade), continue to decline by as much as 23 percent annually.
This shortage of welders has been exacerbated by a shortage of workers and migrants for short periods, with our international borders closed due to COVID-19. Inform the members that there is simply not the same pool of labor available to complete the work.
This skill shortage is not a problem that can be solved in the short term. Weld Australia is working on several initiatives designed to bridge this skills gap. One initiative is innovative high school STEM programs that expose students to the opportunities offered by the welder profession.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills are essential to transforming the nature of work. Digital technology is now a part of our daily lives, and it’s impacting the world of work in ways we’ve never seen before.
According to the federal government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment, workers of the future are expected to spend more than twice as much time on job tasks that require science, math, and critical thinking than today. It is essential that Australia keeps pace with technological change to boost its economy and prosperity.
Attracting and retaining young talent while they are in high school, and then through well-funded training and apprenticeships, is critical to combating acute skills shortages.
Our youth need to acquire complex and high level technical knowledge and skills. They need strong, deep and transferable qualifications that provide a strong base for lifelong learning and skill development. Kids need STEM skills.
We need a vibrant STEM program implemented across schools nationwide so that children and parents alike understand the opportunities – the future of working in industries like welding is not hard, and the dirty work is done in a dark workshop. It focuses on programming and IT skills, using common robots and robots, and implementing Industry 4.0 concepts.
Innovative STEM programs in secondary schools
One way to combat a lack of understanding about STEM career opportunities is through innovative high school science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.
In June 2020, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training (NSW) started a welding education pilot program for students in years 10 to 12 studying manufacturing, engineering and industrial technology. The program used advanced training techniques, including the use of 32 augmented reality welding simulators and innovative teacher training provided by Weld Australia.
Building on the success of the pilot, NSW DET has ordered an additional 20 simulators to be deployed across 10 other secondary schools in regional NSW. Weld Australia works with the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania on similar programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
women in welding
An additional benefit of the STEM program is that the use of augmented reality welding simulators encourages girls to experiment with welding. Currently, women make up only 1 percent of welders. If it could be increased to 10%, it would go a long way to relieving the impending skill shortage.
To this end, Weld Australia participates in the Women Who Weld Program facilitated by the Queensland Manufacturing Institute (QMI). The program aims to increase gender diversity and participation in manufacturing jobs. It provides opportunities for female high school students in Years 10, 11, and 12 to gain insight into business skills and career paths, including local employment opportunities.
Another innovative welder recruitment program in which Weld Australia is involved is Indigenous Welding Australia – a partnership between Weld Australia, the Indigenous Defense and Infrastructure Consortium (IDIC) and IPS Management Consultants. Formed in 2018 to create a national network of Indigenous Welding Academies focused on providing welding training backed by specialized pastoral sponsorship: ‘Indigenous by Indigenous’. Graduates of the program will be placed in positions with defense primary or local industry through our Indigenous partners. Our main industry partner is BAE (Ship Building).
There is no doubt that STEM education and career advice must be improved. But the industry cannot continue to rely on the government to solve the problem. There is also a need for an “engagement” strategy that engages students through close collaboration between schools and companies.
A member of Weld Australia, Precision Metal Group (PMG) is a strong proponent of this type of “pull” strategy. In 2020, PMG began partnering with Parramatta Marist High School to develop the Metallurgy and Welding Program. The program enhances science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills so that students are better prepared to contribute to Australia’s rapidly developing manufacturing and manufacturing industries.
The shared vision is to make more and more students exposed to the industry, and to be certified as armored vehicle welders before they graduate from Parramatta Marist, providing them with pathways supported by skills required by the Australian Defense Force. To start, STEM 10 students rotate through two-hour fortnightly basic welding skills workshops, while self-appointed students undergo extensive welding training at the PMG facility in Wetherill Park.
Australian welding and fabrication companies need to invest in the future of their workforce and take an active role in training welders apprentices. Australia will need an additional 28,000 welders by 2030 based on the existing pipeline of work. Industry plays a vital role in filling these roles. The industry needs to spend more time developing apprentices – it’s not a good idea to expect kids who just finished TAFE to be expert welders.
TAFE METHOD FOR WELDING
As this program gains momentum in hiring new welders, the TAFE Welding curriculum should focus on skills that will be essential for the future of the industry. These skills should focus on developments such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, and advanced manufacturing processes. It is these skills that will keep Australian industry moving toward high-quality, complex manufacturing.
As such, Weld Australia is working with the National TAFE Consortium to create a pool of national resources designated for the National MEM Training Package, so that educational resources for trade students are consistent across the country. This will help ensure consistent training, regardless of where students conduct this training in the country.
The new resources are available entirely online and can be accessed via phone, mobile device or computer. This will allow students to access learning at the time, place, and pace that suits them best. We are very excited about the project and are already seeing some great results.
Technical training is the key to Australia’s future prosperity. Australia’s ability to deliver major projects depends largely on our ability to train highly-skilled traders and technicians to deliver projects. TAFE, the curriculum they teach, and accessible learning resources play a crucial role in this.