Weld Australia has called on the Federal Government to ensure that 30% of all new apprenticeships and traineeships funded are offered to women.

The Government recently announced that it will invest $1.2bn to support Australian businesses to employ 100,000 new apprentices or trainees as part of Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan. According to Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, the Government must set a target to achieve much-needed improvements in the gender composition of Australia’s trades.

“In a post COVID-19 world, irrespective of how much funding the Federal Government invests in training and apprenticeships, Australia’s economy will not recover unless we maintain our industrial, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors,” said Crittenden. “The only way to do this is to broaden our labour pool by attracting women into trades such as welding. We need a proactive, targeted approach that engages and recruits women into the trades, new and innovative trade training programs designed specifically for women, and measurable gender diversity targets set by the Federal Government.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has revealed the budget will be in the red by $184.5 billion in 2020-2021, marking the largest deficit since World War II. The participation of women in the industrial sector played a significant role in the World War II economic recovery—it must do so again now.”

According to the latest job demand data from the National Skills Commission (released in July 2020) around 30% of recruiting employers are having difficulty filling their vacancies. This is despite relatively low recruitment rates and an increase in the number of job seekers since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents indicated that ‘lack of applicants’ was the most common problem (mentioned by 44% of employers), followed by ‘applicants lack experience’ (27%), and ‘applicants lack technical skills’ (20%).

This lack of skilled workers is compounded by the fact that over 35% of Australia’s existing welding workforce is 45 years or older. This heavy proportion of older skilled trade workers, particularly welders, puts into focus the looming issues that industrial sectors are likely to face when baby boomers finally reach retirement age – welding positions will simply become impossible to fill, particularly given the projected increased demand.

In fact, the Government has projected that, to 2024, the number of job openings for structural steel and welding trades will be above average. In some states, advertised vacancies have shown substantial increases over the last few years; Queensland has seen welding trades workers vacancies increase by 87%, Western Australia saw vacancies increase by 80%, and Victoria saw an increase of 18%.

However, the number of welding trade workers in Australia dropped by 8% in the course of just five years; from 75,800 in 2014 to 69,600 in 2019. In addition, completion rates of welding apprenticeships, including a Certificate III in Engineering (Fabrication Trade), continue to fall by as much as 23% annually.

Increasing diversity in the workplace is possibly the best way to alleviate the looming skills shortage. Every effort needs to be made to encourage women to become welders.

At the moment, women account for less than 1% of Australia’s welding and fabricating workforce. This is a staggering statistic. To put this into perspective, on average, women comprise 48% of Australia’s entire workforce.

“This investment by the Federal Government provides a major opportunity to increase the number of female apprentices in the trades, particularly the welding industry,” said Crittenden. “It is the perfect time for women to explore new industries, new career pathways, and new horizons.”