South Australia’s first Advanced Welder Training Centre (AWTC) is now open for business at TAFE SA’s Regency Campus in northern Adelaide.

Equipped with a state-of-the-art augmented reality lab featuring the most advanced welding simulators available anywhere in the world, the AWTC will help ensure local welders are ready to meet the huge demand that will be created by the naval shipbuilding program. It is anticipated that the continuous naval shipbuilding program in South Australia will require around 2,600 tradespeople from 2020 to 2027. Almost half of this demand will be for welders.

Minister for Education John Gardner and Minister for Industry and Skills David Pisoni were both on-hand at the official opening ceremony today. Minister Pisoni said the state-of-the-art equipment will provide a valuable training platform to supply skilled workers to the Osborne naval shipyard when the program commences next year.

“There are enormous naval shipbuilding opportunities on the horizon that are heading to South Australia and the Marshall Liberal Government is ensuring that we provide the right resources to fill these jobs through appropriate skills and training,” said Pisoni. “Welding techniques required for shipbuilding are of a higher quality standard than regular welding techniques and these simulators will allow students to practice their technique until they consistently meet the quality standard.”

Minister Gardner was excited to see TAFE SA students gaining skills in areas that lead to jobs: “This new Advanced Welder Training Centre offers an incredible training opportunity for TAFE SA students to learn using the most advanced welding simulators currently available. These simulators are another example of TAFE SA utilising the latest technology in an educational environment to prepare students with the skills and knowledge for long and successful careers.”

The training delivered at the AWTC will quickly qualify welders to the only industry standard in the world that is accepted in both Europe and America: the ISO 9606-1 stand for qualification testing of welders – fusion welding. ISO 9606-1 is the minimum requirement for working on rolling stock, defence and infrastructure projects.

“This technology is three times cheaper, faster and more effective when compared to traditional training methods,” said Geoff Crittenden, Chief Executive Officer of Weld Australia. “By using this technology, TAFE SA will not only be able to upskill existing welders, but also train transitional workers and apprentices to be part of the defence program.

“Without a doubt, the successful implementation of this innovative training initiative will revolutionise welder training in Australia. It will raise the standard of welder education in Australia exponentially, putting our welder training on par with the best in Europe and America.

“The combination of a curriculum based on global best practice delivered via advanced training technology will help ensure a strong supply of capable welders, both now and well into the future.”

The virtual and augmented reality welding technology increases the rate of engagement in learning and allows students and lecturers to analyse and review welding techniques and performance in a digital environment. The result is that students then perform more effectively in the live workshop environment, where it counts.

Penny Johnston, Director – Defence Industries at TAFE SA, said that there were many advantages for students to use the cutting-edge technology as part of their training: “This new Advanced Welder Training Centre offers an incredible training opportunity for students to learn using the most advanced welding simulators currently available.

“The detailed feedback a student receives on their performance on the simulator is instantaneous and increases the rate at which they acquire an understanding of how they can improve. Students analyse the data fed back on their angles, travel speeds and arc lengths to adjust their welding performance and increase improvement. Students are able to build muscle memory with welding techniques much more quickly and the techniques learned can then be taken to the workshop to be performed in a live environment.”

Weld Australia convened an Industry Skills Group in mid-2017 to prepare a training curriculum tailored for both experienced welders and transitional workers. The courses were accredited by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) in late 2017. As a result, TAFEs around the country can now teach the accredited course, with funding provided by their parent State Government.

The AWTC is a partnership between TAFE SA and Weld Australia, representing industry. Weld Australia will work in close collaboration with TAFE SA to ensure the continued success of the project.

Investing in NT’s skilled workers

Weld Australia has called  on the Federal Government to invest in the future of local skilled workers throughout the Northern Territory, urging Canberra to establish Advanced Welder Training Centres (AWTCs) in Darwin and Alice Springs.

According to Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden: “The Northern Territory faces a critical shortage of qualified and certified welders, which means, despite local labour content agreements, Territorians are missing out on employment opportunities in gas, defence, infrastructure and resources projects in favour of short-term FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) tradesmen.”

With the wind-up of construction work on the Inpex LNG project late last year, the Northern Territory economy is experiencing one of the most severe downturns in recent history. Employment growth dropped significantly over the last ten years, from 6% in 2008, to a deficit of -0.6% in September 2018.

The investment called for by Weld Australia will help prevent future ‘boom and bust’ cycles that are exacerbated when FIFO workers – such as the 10,000 workers that were employed on the Inpex project – leave Darwin at the conclusion of a project.

Crittenden said: “Whilst the national demand for welders is rising, in the Northern Territory it fell by 9.2% in the year to October 2017. Extrapolating, one could expect this trend to have continued in 2018. Apprentice completions are in decline as employment opportunities dry up.

“The Northern Territory is in a downward spiral where the lack of skilled welders is driving opportunities away from local companies, which in turn is forcing the number of qualified welders to decline. Whilst the overall unemployment rate is at 5%, this doesn’t take into account the number of workers that have been forced to look for work outside the Territory.

“With an Indigenous unemployment rate of 18%, the Northern Territory has a pool of labour that, if trained to the appropriate standard, could make a significant contribution to defence projects under the mandatory Indigenous participation program. This could be achieved either directly or through SME participation in project supply chains. Advanced Welder Training Centres in Darwin and Alice Springs could help break the nexus between available skilled labour and employment opportunity thereby facilitating growth in local industry.”