Australia is facing a shortage of skilled welders and fabricators as it seeks to transition toward a clean energy economy, the nation’s welding industry body has warned.
Releasing the results of the 2023 edition of its member survey involving more than 130 companies, Weld Australia says that the welding sector faces major capacity constraints as it deals with a shortage of skilled workers.
According to the survey:
- Labour shortages and rising labour costs are the biggest concerns facing the welding industry. All up, six in ten (60 percent) firms surveyed nominated labour shortages as one of the two most significant factors which are inhibiting the growth of their business. This is followed by 50 percent who indicated likewise for rising labour costs and 45 percent for rising material costs.
- Right now, labour shortages are the most significant concern for owners and senior managers of welding companies. When asked about their main concern as a business owner or manager, 45 percent nominated labour shortages. This was well above the next closest concerns of rising material costs and lack of work (13 percent each).
- Welding workshops have plenty of work but are operating at below capacity for lack of workers. All up, 45 percent of welding firms have a pipeline of work that extends beyond six months. A further 33 percent have a pipeline of between three and six months. Despite this, half of all workshops are operating at 80 percent capacity or below. When asked about this, one third (33 percent) confirmed that a lack of welders was the primary reason for operating at below capacity. A further 17 percent cited a lack of materials as the main driving factor.
Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, said the survey underscores challenges in securing enough skilled labour to deliver upon the energy transition.
To deliver upon the Commonwealth’s emission reduction targets of 43 percent (compared with 2005 levels) by 2030 and net zero by 2050, Crittenden says Australia’s renewable energy generation capacity will expand from 64 GW now to more than 218 GW by 2050. This will comprise 90GW of wind, 39GW of solar, 18.7GW of water, and 35.9GW of battery storage.
To deliver on this, more than 11,000 wind towers will need to be produced. Each of these will require either 500 tonnes of plate steel in the case of onshore towers or 750 tonnes in the case of offshore wind towers.
In addition, the Australian Energy Market Operator estimates that more than 10,000 kilometers of new transmission lines and 25,000 transmission towers will need to be constructed. Each of these will require between 30 to 60 tonnes of steel.
Referring to Weld Australia’s own predictions, Crittenden says Australia will have a shortfall of at least 70,000 welders by 2030.
This, he says, will place added pressure on an industry which is already struggling with staff shortages and workload.
“With a considerable volume of work being onshored and a greater sentiment in the market to ‘buy local’, Australian fabrication companies are so strapped for skilled welders that they are operating well below capacity,” Crittenden said.
“They are being forced to turn down jobs because they simply don’t have the manpower to complete the work.
“How then, will Australian fabricators cope with the influx of work required to make the Federal Government’s renewable energy revolution reality?”
According to the survey, welding companies are taking measures to overcome the worker shortage.
These include training and upskilling existing staff (60 percent); investing in automation and technology and/or changing operational processes (57 percent); increasing wages or improving employee benefits (55 percent); and leveraging different talent pools such as women, apprentices or prisoners (32 percent).
In addition, the industry is ramping up efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of its operations.
Across those surveyed, 80 percent have installed LED or sensor lighting whilst 78 percent are undertaking waste reduction programs; 75 percent are undertaking recycling, upskilling and repurposing programs; and 50 percent are implementing a net zero carbon plan.
This compares with 53 percent, 46 percent, 46 percent and 13 percent who indicated that they were doing likewise in the 2022 edition of the survey.
Still, those in industry believe that more government help is needed.
Whilst 62 percent of those surveyed support current emission reduction targets, 75 percent do not believe that enough is being done to support industry to deliver upon these targets.
In particular, the industry would like to see more investment into TAFE to help combat long-term labour shortages.
All up, almost two thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed support both free TAFE for apprentices and increased funding to upgrade TAFE facilities.
A further 21 percent supported free TAFE for apprentices without the increased funding whilst a further 14 percent supported greater funding without supporting the free TAFE option.
Crittenden said more support is needed.
“While our governments can wish, and hope, and make public pledges about Australia’s transition to renewable energy, at the moment, we simply do not have the sovereign manufacturing capability to make this a reality …” Crittenden said.
“… Without a massive investment in fabrication and steelmaking facilities, skills and training in each state, and real, practical support for local industry, Australia’s renewable energy revolution will simply not be a reality.”
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