Australia’s welding community has diminished as a result of offshored infrastructure projects, according the WTIA’s Geoff Crittenden. The man in charge discusses the implications.
The statistics tell a story. In just over a decade, the volume of imported fabricated steel into Australia has risen from just over five per cent to almost 30 per cent.
Offshoring of business to steel shops across Asia means Australia has seen the size of its welding industry slide at a similar rate.
While investment in state infrastructure will provide opportunities, there is also fret that the skillset among Australia’s welding community could become stale, leading to a dispersal of disconnected expertise.
“When you add the dramatic slow-down of work in the oil and gas industry and the mining industry, there has been a significant downturn in the amount of welding that goes on in Australia,” said Geoff Crittenden, CEO for the Welding Technology Institute of Australia (WTIA).
“Considering there is something like three billion tons of steel infrastructure in our country, it is therefore very important that we maintain a strong welding industry.”
There is a disparity between the state and federal governments’ goals, Crittenden continued.
Where the latter is creating an industry to encourage innovation through its defence program, Crittenden said there is generally less emphasis to advance industry at a local level.
“We would welcome the same concept for the rail-rolling stock, which will be built over the next 30 years,” he said. “Why don’t we create the same environment where we can focus on using investment in developing Australian industry rather than sending it overseas?”
Within the next two decades, Crittenden expects Australia to move away from what he calls a “harsh economic rationalism”, which will see domestic industry thrive again around the concept of Australian-made.
“Although Australia has been lagging behind the introduction of new technology, there are some fabulous new companies that are adopting robotic technology and things like 3D laser imaging that are making us internationally competitive,” he explained.
“As welding becomes more complicated and there is more programming involved, there is an increase in interest from women to pursue welding – however, there is still a shortage of skilled labour across the board.”
To combat a potential leak, WTIA has introduced the Australian Welders Certification Network, which Crittenden helped launch to improve the quality of welders in Australia and “drive industry training out of the dark ages” towards international standards.
Working with four state governments, WTIA is also planning to introduce advanced welder training centres based on the use of modern welding machines and simulators to train welders to the standard required to be globally competitive.
“By promoting flexibility in the workforce and creating a career structure for welders where they are able to demonstrate competency at various levels of welding, it in turn enables the industry to grow,” Crittenden said.
“That would be of enormous benefit to both the individual and the industry. It helps to improve the quality of welders in Australia and, secondly, puts in place a sensible training program to raise the overall standard.”