Highlights from the National Manufacturing Summit 2018

National Manufacturing Summit 2018

The 2018 National Manufacturing Summit, held on 26 June, saw a diverse group of industry stakeholders assemble in the Parliament House in Canberra to share ideas on the prospects of the manufacturing sector. Tara Hamid reports. 

The event was hosted by Weld Australia (formerly the Welding Technology Institute of Australia – WTIA). Themed “Solutions to Critical Issues – Energy and Technical Training,” the Summit sought solutions to the two crucial constraints faced by the manufacturing sector in Australia: energy insecurity and Australia’s fragmented skills and training.

The 2018 National Manufacturing Summit followed in the footsteps of the inaugural Summit –themed ‘Converting Opportunity into Action – which was hosted by the Centre for Future Work in June 2017.

The opening keynote speaker, President of SIMEC ZEN Energy, Professor Ross Garnaut, spoke about the missed opportunities for manufacturing and exports in the past, citing a number of causes for lack of competitiveness in energy prices.

But, he saw promise in the fact that the likes of Sanjeev Gupta, the chairman of GFG Alliance, are investing in the domestic market, noting that it showed a growing confidence in the sector and that the stars are aligning for the sector to grow.

“During the 80s and 90s, when Australia had much lower energy prices, we missed an opportunity to be part of the growth in China’s steel consumption from 100 million tonnes to a billion tonnes over 15 years. But we can do better this time by being part of the growth in the Indian and Southeast Asian markets,” he said.

This, he said would we possible by resorting to renewable energy sources, balancing the intermittence of these sources with battery technologies, and investing in training skills for the manufacturing sector.

The Victoria Skills Commissioner, Neil Coulson, argued that the manufacturing sector is still a strong employer in the country, despite the loss of the automotive sector.

He noted that research has shown that only about nine percent of jobs can be replaced by automation, while technological advancements have the potential to create more jobs.

He cited examples from the  Victorian government’s efforts in making cultural changes from the school-level to encourage more students to choose careers in the manufacturing domain. This includes investments in new approaches to apprenticeship to make them more appealing for the new generation.

An example of innovative apprenticeship approaches was demonstrated by Geoff Crittenden, Weld Australia’s CEO, who explained how Weld Australia has implemented Augmented Reality tools to transform the age-old processes of welding training.

Other key speakers included shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships, Senator Doug Cameron; shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Butler; and Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skill, Karen Andrews, who shared their views on ways to tackle the fragmented skill force.

The Summit was closed with a speech by Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews, who spoke about rebuilding confidence in the manufacturing industry.

“Rebuilding confidence in the industry will grow the demand for skilled workers as well, presenting an opportunity to thousands of Australian apprentices and trainees.

 “The Turnbull Government is committed to seeing an extra 300,000 apprenticeships over the coming four years through the Skilling Australians Fund and I expect that many of them will find on-going employment with Australia’s various manufacturers,” Minister Andrews said.