Australia Faces Rail Skill Shortage – Report

Railway industry is facing a workforce skills shortage crisis, risking significant cost and delivery blowouts on major train and tram projects nationwide during the next decade.

Worth about $7 billion to the economy, rail-related construction spending is expected to grow as much as 8 per cent annually off the back of major projects in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, as well as a string of light rail developments.

But a report set to be released by the Australasian Railways Association on Tuesday has called for reforms to the training sector to meet demand for workers, as well as for better co-operation between state and federal governments and the private sector.

Prepared by BIS Oxford Economics, the report says the industry in Australia and New Zealand is already experiencing skills shortages and warns more than 20 per cent of the sector’s existing workforce is expected to retire before 2028.
The report recommends new strategies to recruit rail workers, through co-operation between government, industry and …
The report recommends new strategies to recruit rail workers, through co-operation between government, industry and education providers. Kirk Gilmour

It says strong demand for train drivers, controllers, track and maintenance workers, signal engineers, technicians and tunnellers is outstripping supply, with the arrival of new technologies set to require new training.

The report also calls for solutions to a “chronic” shortage of trainers and assessors and an end to stop-start investment in rail projects, including the federal government building the $10 billion Inland Rail freight project.

“While the current ‘tsunami’ of rail investment, funded predominantly by the public sector, is creating a renewed sense of urgency towards the development of construction-side skills, some of the largest risks relate to roles that will be required to operate and maintain the new rail networks once they are commissioned,” the report says.

“These skills are not adequately targeted by recent government initiatives aimed at boosting the number of capable employees at all skill levels.”
Immediate action

Among its recommendations is a call for a new taskforce be established to bring together government, industry and education providers, part of efforts to better facilitate development and maintenance of a pipeline of projects.

It recommends a new national skills and development strategy for the rail industry and for measures to boost awareness and attraction of rail-related jobs.

Australasian Railways Association chief executive Danny Broad said the report showed the need for immediate action to fill skills gaps.

“Investment of over $100 billion in rail projects by Australian governments over the next 10 years will be undermined by shortages of skilled labour that dramatically impact the construction of new rail systems, and our capacity to operate them,” Mr Broad said.

“Unless we address shortages due to market failure, attrition, and unsuitable training arrangements, projects will blow out in terms of delivery and cost. Modelling shows that in 2023, the peak of the construction phase, we may have workforce gaps of up to 70,000 people.”

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