Hope for the future—with a strong national plan

The COVID-19 pandemic created uncertainty for everyone, with staff stood down and projects delayed or cancelled. And, while all of us are worried about what the future holds, there are many reasons to look to 2021 – and beyond – with hope.

One positive outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic is a shift in Australia’s political landscape, which has focused all levels of government on job creation.

In particular, the state governments have allocated significant funding in their 2020-2021 Budgets to projects and programs designed to create jobs in Australia’s manufacturing and welding industries.

For instance, the Western Australia Government has invested $5.7 billion invested in METRONET projects across Perth, creating thousands of local jobs and providing opportunities for local businesses. The 2020-2021 Budget included funding that will see the state government procure 246 new locally made railcars and establish a local assembly and manufacturing facility at Bellevue.

The power generation industry requires a national approach.

Similarly, for the first time in nearly a decade, Queenslanders will again build Queensland trains. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has promised a $1 billion railcar construction pipeline for the regional city of Maryborough.

This state government investment extends not only to projects that create jobs, but to the programs needed to train the next generation of welders.

Victoria’s Minister for Training and Skills and Higher Education Gayle Tierney has announced a $274 million guarantee to lock in funding at pre-pandemic levels so that Victoria’s VET system can continue to deliver quality training.

Weld Australia’s Advanced Manufacturing School Outreach Program recently received support from the New South Wales Government, with funding provided through the Department of Education’s Vocational Education and Training Program for Secondary Students. Phase one of the program has funded teacher training for 16 schools across the state.

Funding for these types of training programs – that are designed to excite and inform high school and VET students about the wide range of opportunities available in industry – is essential for a bright, hopeful future. The future of welding in Australia relies upon reaching school children and their parents, and demonstrating the possibilities available in our modern, advanced industry.

Weld Australia’s Advanced Manufacturing School Outreach Program recently received support from the New South Wales state government.

The risks of a fragmented approach

It is brilliant that our state governments have recognised the importance of manufacturing jobs, and are willing to invest in projects and programs to secure these jobs and train our future generation of workers.

However, this fragmented, state-by-state approach does pose risks—it makes the complete lack of a national plan a real concern.

Let’s take the rail manufacturing industry as an example. There are significant rail manufacturing facilities in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. The problem is that, without a coordinated national approach, there will undoubtedly be a duplication of efforts. We will end up with multiple, unsustainable railcar fabrication facilities in various states, competing with one another for resources and contracts. There simply won’t be the volume of work available to sustain all facilities in all states long-term.

Instead, what we really need, for example, is bogie manufacturing in one state, rail line manufacturing in another, and a single railcar fabrication facility. We need a national plan that ensures the best possible use of resources.

It is not just rail manufacturing that needs a national approach. It is the same in the power generation industry. Various state governments are pumping money into renewables. Victoria’s Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio announced the construction of one of the world’s largest lithium-ion batteries. The Western Australia government launched a $66.3 million renewable technology project as part of its COVID-19 stimulus package, and South Australia announced a $240 million project to develop green hydrogen.

While this type of investment is essential and extremely positive, all these projects appear to be ad-hoc rather than part of a national plan.

Defence is the only industry for which the Federal Government has established a successful national model that capitalises on our existing manufacturing resources. We have shipyards in South Australia and Western Australia, while land vehicle manufacturing is carried out in Queensland.

The federal government did announce its Modern Manufacturing Strategy at the beginning of October. According to the government, this Strategy will “help Australian manufacturing scale-up, become more competitive and resilient — creating jobs for now and future generations”. The problem is, this strategy isn’t expected to realise its full potential for ten years. Australian manufacturers and welders simply cannot wait this long.

To create jobs, we must have a strong, advanced industry that the federal government is prepared to plan for and invest in. Industry must have a strong pipeline of work to take on new employees. A strong pipeline of work can only be secured if the federal government
increases local content in all procurement decisions, and has a coordinated national plan across all manufacturing sectors.

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