Industry initiatives help combat welder shortages

Australia’s welding industry is facing a looming skills crisis. With record levels of spending on infrastructure, construction playing a huge role in the post-COVID economic recovery, and countless renewable energy projects on the horizon, welders are more in demand than ever. Industry is working to combat these skill deficiencies with their own unique training and student outreach programs.

The skills crisis is not unique to Australia; the US fabrication industry will face a shortage of 500,000 welders by 2030, and by 2050 Japan will need around 250,000 welders.

The Federal Government recently added an extra 39 occupations to the Australian Apprenticeships Priority List. The list has grown to encompass 111 occupations, as Australia continues to struggle with skills shortages across a range of different sectors—particularly welding and fabrication. Several occupations related to welding and fabrication were added to the Priority List, including Welder, Pressure Welder, Fitter, Metal Fabricator, Metal Machinist, Metal Casting Trades Worker, Sheetmetal Trades Worker, and Blacksmith. In fact, 11 per cent of the occupations included in the Priority List are now related to welding.

It is little wonder that Australia is facing a looming welder shortage. The five-year pipeline of major federally-funded infrastructure projects is valued at $237 billion. On top of this, countless skilled welders will be needed to build and install the wind and transmission towers, solar farms and other power generation assets needed to achieve the Federal Government’s 43 per cent emissions reductions target by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Plus, there are countless projects in defence, state government funded projects, and private developments—all of which require welders.

Given this looming shortage, some of ASI’s members are working on innovative training programs to upskill the next generation of welders.

The Fabinox welding academy

The Fabinox welding academy

Fabinox is a Sydney-based company that provides full service fabrication and installation of structural steel, architectural steel and process piping. Fabinox has invested in world-class facilities, operating across three separate workshops—totalling over 5,000m2 of floorspace—in Riverstone.

Fabinox boasts a wide portfolio of major clients and projects. In the oil and gas sector, Fabinox has completed work for Quenos, ExxonMobil and KBR. In the construction industry, Fabinox boasts high-profile clients such as Multiplex, Lendlease, Lang O’Rourke, Built and Mirvac. When it comes to water treatment, just some of their clients include Veolia, Downer, UGL, Hunter Water and Icon Water.

With a list of clients that features some of the most high-profile firms in Australia, it comes as no surprise that Fabinox has been involved in some of Australia’s most recognisable projects, from the Barangaroo development, the T1 International Airport and Hawkesbury Race Tower in Sydney, through to current work at Crown Casino in Sydney.

Struggling to attract new recruits, Fabinox recently established its own welding academy. The Fabinox Welding Academy is comprised of theory rooms, as well as 13 welding bays, which are each fitted with individual fume extraction and the latest high-tech welding machines. Fabinox has also acquired some of the most modern and up-to-date virtual reality welding simulators, to enhance student learning.

According to David Lortan (the owner and general manager of Fabinox), “Building a Registered Training Organisation places a great demand on a company and requires industry expertise outside of mainstream management lines, which can be a costly and time consuming exercise. Despite this, we decided to purchase an RTO to sit within the Fabinox company umbrella to provide a holistic learning and development solution for both our current staff and future clients.”

The Fabinox welding academy offers a Certificate III – Metal Fabrication (Welding and Fabrication), as well as a range of non-accredited courses that cover TIG (GTAW), MIG (GMAW) and Stick (MMAW) welding. In addition,  Fabinox has developed a flexible, student focused pathway that allows students to obtain AS 1796 welding tickets 1 to 9 anytime, anywhere in the country. Welding tickets 1 to 9 of AS 1796 cover the welding craft skills for all common welding processes such as MMAW, GTAW, GMAW, FCAW, OAW and SAW. Fabinox Welding Academy is able to facilitate welder testing on site and provide welder coaching. The welding theory is dealt with in the same manner as the above welding supervisor exams.

The Fabinox welding academy

Precision Metal Group trains iSTEM high school students

Similarly, another ASI member, Precision Metal Group (PMG) began partnering with Parramatta Marist High School to develop a metals and welding training program in 2020. The shared vision is to have more and more students exposed to the industry, and certified as armoured vehicle welders before they graduate from Parramatta Marist. This will provide students with career pathways that are supported by a skill set in demand by the Australian
Defence Force. 

To begin, Year 10 iSTEM students rotate through fortnightly two hour welding core skills workshops, while self-nominated students undertake intensive welding training at PMG’s facility in Wetherill Park.

PMG chief executive, Jason Elias said students, including those preparing to enter university, who are keen to try a trade will be trained in welding, drafting, automation and areas of engineering needed in the industry.

“We aim to expose our students to Australian as well as international manufacturing standards so that they are ready where there is current skills and talents shortage,” Elias said.

“We need talents for defence industry manufacturing, in building infrastructure which is taking off everywhere, in automation, and coding and that is why we need to get our students into early training and taking on apprenticeships that will become part of their future solid career path.”

PMG chief executive, Jason Elias, talks to students from Parramatta Marist High School

Elias said they teach engineering technology so students get the idea that “it is no longer the old, dungeon style dirty welding but the new technology is clean and safe. There is a huge need for quality trained tradesmen for industries with special requirements.”

“Given a huge demand for manufacturing since the pandemic, we have to innovate and be creative to fill the gaps and meet shortfalls in the market,” Elias said. “Having specialist welders will enable Australia to produce our own welded materials without having to rely on imports, and even produce our own materials for export.”

Jason Elias established Precision Metal Group in 2000 in Yennora, Western Sydney after his highly successful boilermaker apprenticeship—he was named Apprentice of the Year three years in a row. After eight successful years as a sole trader, Elias formed a company and moving into bigger premises at Wetherill Park. Ten years on, PMG boasts a team of over 40 employees, delivers innovative, quality work, and is involved with some of Australia’s biggest companies and projects.

Working across sectors such as defence, infrastructure, construction, oil and gas, rail, mining and manufacturing, PMG has been involved in high-profile projects like Rheinmetall’s Boxer Land 400 parts and seats for major rail supplier Probatec.

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