The Australian rail sector is facing a fast-developing skilled labour crisis, according to BIS Oxford Economics in a report commissioned by the Australasian Railways Association (ARA).

The crisis would deliver a substantial blow out in project costs and delivery delays to rail projects in Australia and New Zealand over the next ten years.

ARA CEO, Danny Broad, said, “The report is a call to action to government and industry. Immediate corrective action to fill skills gaps with fit-for-purpose training is needed to avoid these blow outs.

“Investment of over $100 billion in rail projects by Australian governments over the next ten 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.

“The next ten years will herald a renaissance of rail in Australia — important urban passenger projects such as the Melbourne and Sydney Metros, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Perth’s Metronet, and multiple light rail infrastructure and rolling stock investment, as well as crucial freight projects such as Inland Rail, which will provide direct freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne.

“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.”

The report recommends the establishment of a high-level taskforce of government, industry and education providers, with a three-pronged focus:

  1. Facilitate the development and maintenance of an Australasian rail industry pipeline of rail projects to map skilled labour required across construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance. The ANZIP pipeline, established by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which enjoys financial backing from both the Australian and New Zealand governments, should be adapted and refined for this purpose
  2. Develop a National Rail Industry Skills Development Strategy to drive reform in education and training systems, and practices that increase the availability of required skills, their productivity, transferability and mobility, while retaining a commitment to quality and safety
  3. Boost awareness and attraction of rail careers. The need to attract skills and career aspirants to the rail industry is widely recognised. Industry has a significant responsibility in this regard. The taskforce should add its weight to initiatives such as establishing “branding partnerships” with related industries across transport, mining and manufacturing.

The Australasian Railway Association engaged BIS Oxford Economics to undertake a workforce capability analysis for the rail industry based on planned and forecast rail infrastructure development in Australia and New Zealand over the next ten years, with implications for a range of rail industry skills across construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance.

Through expansive stakeholder and industry engagement, and extensive data analytics, the report explores skills shortages over the coming decade, key threats to workforce capability, and what government and industry can do to respond to meet the challenges of delivering on the significant rail infrastructure and rolling stock investment.

The report was launched on 27 November 2018 at AusRail 2018 Conference and Exhibition at the National Convention Centre, Canberra.

To view the report, go to:

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1 Comment
  1. Bernard Schaffler 3 years ago

    It is time the railways in Australia woke up and allowed senior engineers to be re-employed even if they are well into their 70’s. I have vast experience in rail rolling stock and cannot get a job even though I have BSc. Eng. MSc. Eng. degrees. What this country could do is advance their locomotives to become emission free. My PhD that I am working on is related to Hydrogen Fuel cells and electric propulsion but no one is interested at the railways.

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