Weld Australia urges investment in network of Indigenous welding schools

Weld Australia is urging the Federal Government to invest in a national network of Indigenous Welding Schools to help create real skills and real jobs for Indigenous Australians – and close the gap.

Now is the time to ensure Indigenous Australians have the skills needed to secure meaningful jobs. According to the Productivity Commission’s recently released first review of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, governments are not adequately delivering on their commitment to the Agreement.

Despite some pockets of good practice, progress in implementing the Agreement’s Priority Reforms has, for the most part, been weak and reflects tweaks to, or actions overlayed onto, business-as-usual approaches. The disparate actions and ad hoc changes have not led to improvements that are noticeable and meaningful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Indigenous Welding Schools initiative not only aligns with the national socio-economic targets of the Closing the Gap agreement—enhancing education, employment, and community development for Indigenous Australians—but also offers a tangible solution to the pressing need for skilled labour in the welding industry.

Over the past five years, Weld Australia has approached every government in a bid to secure funding to create a national network of Indigenous Welding Schools that use the latest augmented reality and advanced welding systems. We have been largely rebuffed by governments of all persuasions.

However, we know that the Albanese Government is genuinely committed to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians. Weld Australia has written to the Albanese Government, urging it recognise the value and necessity of the Indigenous Welding Schools concept. It represents a strategic investment in the future of industry and the empowerment of Indigenous communities, promising real skills for real jobs.

The Indigenous Welding Schools program would be predominantly run by Indigenous educators and trades people who would mesh the practical demands of the welding trade with a culturally appropriate curriculum, pastoral support, and employment pathways to deliver gate-ready welders to industry. Students would graduate qualified and certified to the internationally recognised welding competency standard ISO 9606.

The model and technology would be identical to that deployed by Weld Australia in its highly successful existing programs: the VET Centre of Excellence in seven Corrections Victoria prisons; and the NSW Advanced Manufacturing Schools Outreach Program, implemented in over 65 schools.

Australia is facing a looming shortage of skilled welders—70,000 additional welders will be needed in the next 10 years. Demand is being driven by Defence, Infrastructure and Resource projects and exacerbated by supply chain issues promoting growth in local companies. The upcoming renewable energy boom will further overheat the market. Welding-specific VET training and employment pathways for Indigenous Australians could help alleviate some of these skills shortages for industry and close the gap for Indigenous Australians.

A national network of Indigenous Welding Schools could help progress three of the 19 national socio-economic targets outlined in Closing the Gap:

  • Students reach their full potential through further education pathways
  • Youth are engaged in employment or education
  • Strong economic participation and development of people and their communities
Image: Weld Australia

A bright trade future

Munster Services Group is a Queensland owned and operated trade services business with over 115 employees and facilities in Slacks Creek, Underwood, Stapylton and Maroochydore. They maintain Queensland’s vital water and wastewater infrastructure, service heavy industry and manufacture water treatment equipment.

As an employer, Munster seeks people with the right attitude and a keen interest in learning and developing, who are reliable and trustworthy. As a result, without seeking to achieve any target, Munster has a diverse workplace, with more than 22 national backgrounds in the team and a First Nations representation of around nine per cent.

Last year, Munster engaged in the First Nations Engineering Skills Set Program with DGT Employment and Training in Meadowbrook, funded by the Local Jobs Program and supported by DATSIP to provide training and work experience to unemployed locals keen to enhance their career opportunities.

Through support of this program, Munster employed John Pilot—a 40-year-old Torres Strait Islander man. Pilot wanted to change careers, from a forklift operator to working as a boilermaker or mechanical fitter.

Pilot is undertaking a Certificate III in Engineering through TAFE Queensland and is a first-year mechanical fitting apprentice at Munster. He has proven to be a reliable and hardworking employee, with a bright trade future in one of Queensland’s key skill shortage areas.

According to Pilot, “I chose a career in engineering to gain a different experience and trade in a new line of work. I spent a majority of my working life in the warehousing industry doing picking and packing and forklift high reach driving.”

“I love working hands-on with tools, learning more about the different types of tools used in the industry, and how machinery works. I enjoy the assembly and disassembly of working machinery parts, learning how they work and the importance of their function. It’s also great learning about the different networks and site repairs and maintenance in the field.”

“The advice I would give other First Nations people considering a career in engineering is that it’s interesting and enjoyable as well as challenging. There’s plenty of ways to expand your qualifications. It’s an industry that is booming and there is plenty of opportunity for growth and moving up in the engineering industry and once your qualified there’s good money to be earned.”

“I encourage anyone who keen to get started in engineering to stick with it. It’s well worth it,”
said Pilot.

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