Chapter 5 - People

  1. People
    1. The future of advanced manufacturing relies on an increasingly sophisticated integration of people and technology.[1] The Committee heard that although manufacturing is often seen as based on machinery and technology, it is fundamentally a people-led industry.[2]
    2. This chapter discusses the need to foster skilled workers and business managers to expand world-competitive advanced manufacturing in Australia. It describes suggestions heard by this inquiry into how governments can best meet emerging capability needs.
    3. The chapter concludes with a discussion of manufacturing’s challenges attracting and retaining workers due to outdated perceptions of the nature of the industry. It also discusses how greater automation can enable a more diverse manufacturing workforce, including attracting and retaining workers from non-traditional cohorts.

The jobs promise of advanced manufacturing

5.4Despite fears to the contrary, the inquiry heard that developments in advanced manufacturing will create more jobs, through both domestic manufacturers becoming more competitive, and scaled-up production.

5.5Automation and Industry 4.0 technologies do not remove the need for humans in the production process; they change its nature. Workers will be required to do more complex and diverse tasks, and to be more involved in designing and optimising processes and workflows using both digital and trades know-how.[3] The inquiry heard that the knowledge and skills of experienced trades workers are an essential ingredient even in the most complex and automated manufacturing systems.[4]

5.6However, adopting advanced manufacturing will require both workers and employers to develop new technical skillsets—and these skills are in strong demand in the Australian and international labour market.

Current and forecast skills shortages

5.7The Committee heard of shortages in essential skills across a wide variety of manufacturing sectors. These can limit a company’s ability to innovate and adopt advanced manufacturing processes, such as the deployment of Industry 4.0 technologies.

5.8This situation is not unique to Australia, with Dr Paul Savage of the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) describing the current search for skilled staff as a ‘global talent war’.[5]

5.9Australia also has an ageing workforce. The demographic changes caused by a declining birthrate will contribute to future skills shortages, and are likely to see an increasing reliance on migration. The manufacturing workforce demographic is older than the general workforce, increasing the challenges of both upskilling older staff and replacing skilled staff as they retire.[6]

5.10While far from an exhaustive list, the inquiry heard that industries experiencing skills shortages in Australia included:

  • sterile pharmaceutical manufacturing[7]
  • agriculture and production horticulture, particularly agriculture consultants and scientists, mixed crop farmers, agricultural technicians, and grain, oilseed and pasture growers[8]
  • ship- and submarine-building[9]
  • mining.[10]
    1. Across industries, certain skills were repeatedly raised as difficult to find, including all forms of engineering, data scientists and artificial intelligence (AI) specialists. Some of the skills shortages stem not from the education level required but from the sheer scale of the industrial transformation underway. For example, the Committee heard that transforming Australia’s energy grid to 82 per cent renewables by 2030 would require 600,000 direct and indirect workers. This would occur in a renewable energy field that currently has an estimated shortfall of up to 15,000 electricians alone.[11]
    2. Skills shortages undermine Australia’s sovereign capability—that is, the ability to achieve objectives in key areas. The inquiry therefore heard that it is critically important to identify key sovereign capability priorities and then map future skills needs, to create appropriate workforce development strategies. This could be done on an industry-specific basis. For example, the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) prepared a Vocational Skills Gap and Workforce Development Plan in partnership with South Metropolitan TAFE, which showed that:

… Australia’s vocational system already provides much of the skilled training required for the battery industry; including process operation, and electrical trades. Further work with South Metropolitan TAFE and other TAFE institutions around Australia, has fully scoped and costed the effort required to close curriculum gaps and train our workforce.[12]

5.13The inquiry also heard that skilled workers are needed in manufacturing regulation and compliance to support the transition to advanced manufacturing. Although one of Australia’s strengths is its robust regulatory system, resulting in high quality, trusted products, this can only be maintained if regulatory organisations have enough skilled staff to adequately monitor evolving technologies. Science & Technology Australia point out that ‘specialised training and accreditation will be required to develop the compliance and regulatory workforce to maintain the entire system’s integrity.’[13]

5.14As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, inquiry participants also advocated for regulation that supported innovation and commercialisation, while still preserving quality. The Committee notes that the design and implementation of this type of regulation requires a more sophisticated regulator skillset—one that can respond to novel situations and opportunities.

Home-grown talent: education and training

5.15There are many ways a worker can obtain the skills and knowledge needed to excel in advanced manufacturing jobs. Although formal education—secondary, tertiary and vocational—plays an indispensable role, the inquiry also heard that for some innovative or highly specialist manufacturing, often the only option is on-the-job learning.

Primary and secondary schools

5.16The inquiry heard that education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects should be delivered at all levels of education and should start early. Both state and federal government policy should have a holistic view of STEM—not just focusing on tertiary education—to ensure a sufficiently deep national pool of varied skills for advanced manufacturing.[14]

5.17Ideally, the inquiry heard that students should complete schooling with the skills and capability to apply and even build technology, not just knowledge of the technology itself.[15]

5.18Industry is also aware of the need to make younger students aware of the range of high-tech jobs available in manufacturing. Many submitters gave examples of their work with schools to excite young students about advanced manufacturing and engage their imaginations:

Some recent initiatives were Griffith University SPASE (STEM Program About Space Exploration), which will see us launching a student-built CubeSat to space on a Gilmour rocket; partnering with Bowen schools on the QLD Aerospace Gateway Program; and our project with the Monash Nova Rover team to test their Platypus rover at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre’s lunar moon test bed.[16]

Post-secondary learning: the need for a more joined-up approach

5.19Submitters to the inquiry were broadly positive about the quality of post-secondary educational institutions in Australia, with important exceptions. For example, although the quality of university courses is considered high, there is general agreement many could be better attuned to industry needs. Vocational education is considered better aligned with industry, but the inquiry heard that the TAFE (technical and further education) sector needs revitalisation and reinvigoration.

5.20There was broad agreement on areas for improvement. In order to better position all graduates of post-secondary education for rewarding manufacturing careers, courses should include practical, industry-focused experience and embed the latest knowledge, technologies and know-how. As technologies evolve, flexible lifelong learning approaches need to be the default method of learning. Submitters also pointed to silos between the higher education and vocational education sectors, and recommended greater collaboration.

Vocational education and training

Revitalising TAFEs

5.21The inquiry heard that vocational education—delivered through the TAFE system or registered training organisations—is essential in providing trade-qualified workers for advanced manufacturing industries. Stakeholders raised two main concerns: difficulties attracting young people into vocational education, and the quality and relevance of the education students receive.

5.22Submitters noted that the TAFE system has struggled with chronic underinvestment, leading to outdated equipment (see below), limited availability of places[17], difficulty attracting and retaining skilled instructors[18], curriculum design that has not kept pace with technological change (see below) and a tendency among high school careers advisors to view TAFE as a Plan B in case students fail to get into university.[19]

5.23As Dr Katie Hepworth of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) noted:

There’s been a lot of stigma over the last few years around doing trades; we’ve pushed people into university. That is something that needs to be addressed as well, as we build up the vocational sector and show that these are good jobs and they can deliver good wages…[20]

5.24The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) elaborated on the case of modern electrical trades training:

… vocational education teachers’ median full-time earnings are $1,780 per week, which is usually less than a person could expect if they stayed ‘on the tools’ (Labour Market Insights Portal). This disparity in earnings does not affect all occupations equally, but it is an issue in the trades…

At NECA we see that the Electrotechnology industry is not only expanding, but it is evolving and adopting entirely new sectors including new branches of ICT, renewables, and IOT (the Internet of Things).

Standalone courses exist, but, since the demise of the Industry Skills Councils, the National Training Packages have not maintained pace with industry and, as a result, no longer reflect the new technologies and skillsets… which are part of the modern electrical trade. … [However,] NECA is confident that the new Jobs and Skills Councils (JSCs) will be able to rectify the current lag.[21]

5.25Ms Lisa Emerson, the Modern Manufacturing Commissioner for Investment NSW, told the Committee:

TAFE … is a huge opportunity to start teaching students and apprentices about modern manufacturing. Yet a lot of the equipment we have at TAFE at the moment is extremely outdated. So TAFE instructors are using equipment that they learned on 40 years ago.[22]

More flexible, industry-tailored training

5.26Post-secondary education providers with strong relationships with industry emphasised the limitations of traditional on-campus teaching to meet the skills development needs of existing workers. This comment applied to both academic and vocational programs.

5.27For example, Deakin University argued that vocational education needs to be more agile and open to delivering training in multiple ways, including short-form and online training.[23] Swinburne University of Technology also highlighted the need for more flexible training formats to support the reskilling of current workers, as discussed later in this chapter.

5.28The Committee heard several examples of innovative training design and delivery—including programs co-developed by one or more TAFEs, universities and local employers working in partnership.

5.29The Deakin University Hycel Technology Hub at Warrnambool (Victoria) is a facility for new hydrogen technologies that focuses on both research and vocational jobs:

It’s a partnership that we’ve done with South West TAFE to develop not only high-end jobs but also vocational jobs, because they go hand in hand. We’ve got two parts to that on the skills side. On the industry side, we’ve been working with local industry … Warrnambool Bus Lines. Their buses have some of the longest routes in the world, so we’re working with Warrnambool Bus Lines in developing a hydrogen bus fleet. Those buses should come in next year. That’s part of the Hycel engagement with community skills and industry.[24]

5.30The Hycel pilot gives more insight into the downstream effects of new technologies on the full range of trades. The Committee heard that the transition to an economy where energy is sourced from hydrogen will take ‘a huge skills change. Think about the needs of your plumber; they will have to understand hydrogen plumbing, not just plumbing.’[25]

5.31Deakin University also worked with the Royal Australian Air Force to develop a competency framework called the ‘Virtual Trade’. The framework upskills technical and maintenance aviators on the latest technologies, starting with additive manufacturing (3D printing). The framework can be rolled out to industry and implemented through local vocational education providers.[26]

Improving apprenticeship completion rates

5.32NECA also offered some specific recommendations for improving the experience of apprentices, based on its successful track record:

NECA boasts a consistent 90% apprenticeship completion rate, compared to the national average of just 55%. …

The ‘recipe’ for this success is as follows:

1. Robust Apprentice recruitment practices.

2. Quality training that reflects industry best practice techniques and technologies.

3. Apprentice mentoring and employer support throughout the apprenticeship.

Attracting young people to Apprenticeships is an ongoing challenge across a number of industries, which will in turn impact the speed of growth and readiness … to support domestic [industries], and compete with international trends in advanced manufacturing.

Many young men and women think they may be interested in the electrical trades but do not have the level of conviction needed to commit to a 4-year Apprenticeship.

Pre-apprenticeship programs have proven a particularly successful means of addressing this inherent reservation as they provide program participants with a ‘taste’ of the industry and assist them to decide if an electrical trade career is for them.

Cohort specific initiatives, such as female and indigenous-only pre-apprenticeship programs also assist to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence required for young people from these sections of the community to compete on a level playing field for Electrical Apprenticeship positions.

NECA would welcome the opportunity to work with the Australian Government to implement a cohesive suite of apprentice attraction, recruitment and retention strategies to address the significant skills and labour shortages currently facing the Electrical Industry.[27]

The ‘higher apprenticeship’ model

5.33Submitters to the inquiry described the success of hybrid university–vocational training programs, often called higher or degree apprenticeships.

5.34The inquiry heard about the Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships Pilot Program, which involves seven universities, the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and Siemens in piloting advanced apprenticeships combining a trade qualification with a higher diploma or associate degree. Swinburne University is participating in this pilot, and is ‘the first Australian university to deliver Industry 4.0 Applied Technologies higher apprenticeship programs in advanced manufacturing’.[28]

5.35Swinburne recommended that the model ‘can play an important role in bridging the skills gap for advanced manufacturing, offering practical training and education in the use of advanced technologies and digital automation.’[29] It drew particular attention to this model’s potential to support Australia’s nuclear submarine manufacturing task under AUKUS (the Australia, United Kingdom and United States partnership):

Whilst the AUKUS partnership presents opportunities for small, medium and large enterprise nationally, a considerable commitment and effort is required to develop thousands of highly skilled scientists, engineers, project managers, operators, technicians, welders, construction workers and trade specialists. A recommended education and training pathway to building the required technical and practical skills and expertise is through an advanced apprenticeship model. Models piloted by Swinburne in advanced manufacturing and other related technical and construction streams have found enormous benefit in combining vocationally oriented advanced technical skill acquisition and higher education knowledge and expertise. These models can be achieved through work integrated – earn and learn models, or through more traditional education models.[30]

5.36The Australian Cobotics Centre also participates in the Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships Pilot Program, and advised that it has ‘demonstrated success in graduate capabilities around digital technologies and practical workplace skills, integrating trade skills into higher qualifications, and integrating skills from traditionally segregated disciplines.’[31] It echoed the above recommendation to consider this model to address the workforce training requirements of AUKUS.

Recent announcements

5.37Towards the end of this inquiry, a landmark National Skills Agreement (NSA) was announced by National Cabinet to embed national cooperation and strategic investment in Australia’s vocational education and training sector.[32] The Australian Government will invest up to $12.6 billion under the NSA, with the potential for combined federal and state and territory government co-investment to exceed $30 billion. Under a new National Stewardship model, this co-investment will be strategically coordinated to support the delivery of skills in national priority areas, as well as to meet local industry skills needs in the states and territories.

5.38Among other things, the NSA will fund nationally networked TAFE Centres of Excellence, involving partnerships with universities, Jobs and Skills Councils and industry. It will invest in the vocational education and training workforce and leadership capabilities, to promote cutting edge curriculum. Significant funding is earmarked to deliver skills in priority areas, including clean energy and the transition to net zero emissions, sovereign capability in advanced manufacturing, and Australia’s digital and technology capabilities.

5.39The Employment White Paper committed further funding for TAFEs and apprenticeships as part of the strategic reset of post-secondary education. Commitments include support for higher apprenticeships:

In addition to the $325 million that has already been proposed by the Commonwealth Government under the National Skills Agreement for TAFE Centres of Excellence, the Government will commit an additional around $41 million, comprising of around $31 million to turbocharge the new TAFE Centres of Excellence and approximately $10 million to develop higher and degree apprenticeships.[33]

University–industry collaboration

5.40University-educated workers are required at all stages of the manufacturing life cycle, from research and development (R&D) through to after-sales service. There is unmet need for university-qualified workers not only in traditionally ‘high tech’ disciplines such as engineering and science, but also in areas such as design, ergonomics, human resources management and change management.

5.41Submitters described a large number of collaborative projects between universities and employers—many covered in Chapter 4. These include education as well as R&D and commercialisation projects (or sometimes all three simultaneously).

5.42The Committee heard of several successful industry-based training programs developed or delivered in partnership with formal training institutions. For example, BAE Systems Australia collaborated with Flinders University and TAFE to develop a digital technology diploma. Initially designed to upskill BAE’s local workforce in digital manufacturing before commencing a new major shipbuilding program, the course now attracts hundreds of students from other organisations:

A collaboration between BAE Systems Australia, Flinders University and TAFE led to the development of the Diploma of Digital Technologies. Designed to suit [the] changing nature of naval shipbuilding, the program aims to:

  • foster an understanding of Industry 4.0 including digital twins, automation and supply chains
  • teach foundation engineering design, cybersecurity and electronics
  • provide technical design, prototyping, robotic and microprocessing skills relevant to defence industries
  • provide a pathway to a career in ICT, cybersecurity or as an engineering associate
  • assist students with a pathway to higher-level qualifications.

The diploma was initially delivered as a full time course in 2020 to upskill 51 shipbuilders transitioning from the end of the Air Warfare Destroyer program. This was converted to two-year part time delivery in 2021 to suit full time workers, with strong ongoing demand. There are now over 250 students from more than 50 organisations.[34]

5.43The inquiry also heard about the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, a trans-disciplinary research facility in the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University’s Tonsley site (described in Chapter 4), which has:

… undertaken research in laboratory and workplace conditions, exploring the potential and appropriate application of advanced technology for safer, more efficient working environments. The research has sought to identify and support the needs of workers in a range of technical occupations; in supervisory and supervised, manual and non-manual positions, of diverse ages and varying levels of experience. Today, this research provides a repository of findings and substantive knowledge, which AITI will employ as it expands its pilot Factory of the Future into a fully operational institution linked to a new Technical College set up to train manufacturing’s future workforce.[35]

5.44Additive manufacturing (3D printing) specialist Amaero International Limited noted:

The higher education sector has a number of world-leading institutes supporting the growth of the additive manufacturing industry and the education of undergraduates and post- graduate students and researchers. These institutes include the Monash University Centre for Additive Manufacturing (MCAM), RMIT Centre for Additive Manufacturing (RCAM), CSIRO’s Lab 22 and Sydney Manufacturing Hub (University of Sydney).[36]

5.45The inquiry heard that university students stand to gain many career advantages from industry exposure during their degrees, whether through co-located start-ups or larger manufacturers in local innovation precincts, internship programs or jointly designed and delivered training. The inquiry also heard that industry experience and collaboration allowed university graduates to develop not just formal knowledge, but also the ‘hands-on making stuff’[37] required in many workplaces. For example, many high-tech industries require workers to be adept in the ‘design, build, test, fail, re-learn, re-design’[38] process of innovation.

5.46Such collaborations are a win–win for both students and businesses. Practical experience in such skills makes students more employable, and shortens the time required to become productive as an employee. Students are also exposed to a broad variety of real-world industries and jobs—which may offer a more informed and realistic starting point for choosing a career than conventional careers counselling or abstract ‘book learning’.[39]

5.47Such arrangements also feed into a virtuous cycle, whereby future employees and innovators are prepared to start their careers, while participating businesses deepen their technological know-how and gain access to emerging talent. By the end of their degrees, high-performing graduates could have multiple job offers well matched to their experience and qualifications, and good employers could have a pool of tried-and-tested candidates ready to integrate into their business. Defence industry R&D co-investment partnership DMTC Limited described the value of internships in its Smart Enough® Factory project (discussed further later in this chapter):

With support from the Defence Science Institute and AI Group, DMTC has supported multiple internships across Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, with a view to expanding this element of the program across other states and territories. The internships have proved to be a key pillar of DMTC’s Smart Enough® Factory project… These internships provide mutual benefit to both students, who gain practical experience on the factory floor, and to industry partners who gain invaluable assistance along their digital transformation journey.[40]

5.48Some institutions were seeking to formally embed such experiences and industry relationships in degree programs, to allow students to design, fail and re-design with real world applications. Referring to its advanced manufacturing technology testbed, the Monash Smart Manufacturing Hub, Monash noted:

Through the use of such facilities as a training ground for undergraduates, universities can start to offer solutions to companies along with the future graduates who can be hired to implement them. For example, the MSMH is working on a model in which a trained pool of undergraduates is available for internships to deliver solutions, followed by employment to implement them.[41]

5.49Submitters noted the growth and success of other industry internship and/or exchange programs for academics and research higher degree students. For example, as CSIRO’s Dr Savage explained:

Many universities have ‘six months in industry’ type components to their courses. We have a really good relationship with RMIT, where we set up a Master of Science course. It is a two-year master’s by research, but they work in CSIRO for that two-year period. Unlike a PhD, which requires fundamental research and publishable results, a master’s is literally to attain mastery. They will work in an area where they attain mastery in a particular thing like running an electron microscope or a 3D printing additive manufacturing machine. At the end of that time they graduate with a master’s degree, but also with the job-ready experience that I talked about. They get snapped up into industry from those positions.[42]

5.50Similarly, Monash University has a new Industry Doctoral Program that allows for existing employees in industry to work for their employer to create specific technological solutions, and to be assessed on the industry-relevant outcomes rather than a traditional thesis.[43] The CSIRO’s Industry PhD (doctor of philosophy) scholarship program brings together industry and universities to co-develop four-year industry-focused PhDs.[44] The Industry Mentoring Network in STEM mentoring program connects PhD students with industry mentors across a wide range of fields.[45]

5.51Several submitters applauded the ‘REDI’ (Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry) exchange program—an initiative of the former government expiring at the end of 2023—which supports academics to spend a year or two in industry, then take those skills and knowledge back into the academic environment.[46]

5.52Consistent with other recent consultations on university reform, this inquiry also heard that the quality and relevance of degree programs could be improved by greater industry involvement to identify skill gaps in specific industries, and feed that back into curriculum development. For example, the Minerals Council of Australia is working with universities to update the curriculum regarding modern mining practices.[47] University-located collaborations can also look across multiple industries and manufacturing environments and feed that knowledge back into further training.

Recognising on-the-job learning

5.53Although submitters valued the role of post-secondary education, the inquiry also heard that in many highly specialised or emerging industries, the only way to obtain appropriately skilled staff was through on-the-job learning and development. This was particularly true for high-tech (or high-science) industries in which the local ecosystem has few or no major ‘anchor’ firms, and where local STEM degrees do not cover relevant manufacturing practices.

5.54In this inquiry, the above problem was most commonly raised by biomedical manufacturers. For example, CSL described their workforce planning as a long-term ‘ground-up’ approach, acknowledging that many of the specialist biotech skills needed for sterile manufacturing simply had to be learned on the job.[48] CSL’s Vice President of Strategic Industry Engagement, Dr Andrea Douglas, explained:

At CSL, we need to recognise that, in terms of biotech R&D—the later-stage R&D manufacturing—there is not a big market in Australia. Often, when you need people who have GMP [Good Manufacturing Practice], which is quality-controlled manufacturing experience, people develop that expertise by working at CSL. There are not many organisations where you can learn those skills. … [W]e do have strategic partnerships where we work directly with universities to ensure that their courses or particular training material meet some of our needs, so it’s at that very base level.[49]

5.55AstraZeneca’s Mr Bill Downie agreed:

… we see a lot of great graduates coming through the educational programs here. However, a lot of these younger or new people we’re bringing in don’t have the inherent intuitive knowledge specifically around aseptic manufacturing, sterile manufacturing technology, which is the cusp of the business that we’re running here. Also, they don’t have specific pharma experience. They don’t know the regulatory expectations and what is derived to meet the needs of the TGA or the regulatory bodies where we’re supplying.[50]

5.56The Committee heard that for emerging medical technologies like cell and gene therapies, the challenge becomes even greater. Cell Therapies Pty Ltd introduced itself as the only Australian contract development and manufacturing organisation with a Therapeutic Goods Administration licence to manufacture T-cell therapies for clinical and commercial supply. In its submission, Cell Therapies Pty Ltd explained the challenge of accessing local talent for this extremely specialised type of manufacturing:

The manufacturing process is strictly regulated and requires a highly skilled workforce that is strong in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) while engaging with novel technology and processes not generally found elsewhere. Access to this skilled workforce is a recognised barrier both in Australia and globally for the CGT [cell and gene therapies] sector. The sector has not benefited from existing academic programs as these graduates have no exposure to true commercial-scale GMP manufacturing, nor have they experienced the operational overlay of the prevailing quality assurance and quality control systems in combination with the complex scientific processes specific to CGTs. There is an opportunity however for industry to work in partnership with TAFE and University education to allow transition and upskilling of new graduates into industry-ready training.[51]

5.57More generally, the inquiry also heard that while a student can learn how to do something through formal instruction, knowing why something is done in a particular way and exercising appropriate judgment on the job often relies on job-specific knowledge transfer:

You can write down the process. You can document the manufacturing instruction. But knowing why you do that, and therefore how you go about it, … is absolutely fundamental. It’s very difficult to teach. Often you have to learn it hands-on.[52]

5.58The Minerals Council noted the increasing importance of workforce agility, and suggested that governments could facilitate this through a consistent national framework for recognising and accrediting workers’ transferable skills, including on-the-job skills:

It is about recognising that the transferability of skills across these sectors [mining, oil, gas, defence, agriculture, construction] is huge. Where you have projects and planning that occur across these industries, it is quite significant and long term. There needs to be a greater recognition of how we recognise, and who badges the recognition of these transferable skills, so that people can have confidence that if they pursue these studies and these skills, they’re able to engage in work in the mining industry… [then] transition somewhere else and then come back. …It is not just from an industry perspective, recognising and saying, ‘We will honour those skills in our industry,’ but from the perspective of the government side, saying, ‘Yes, we say that these skills do transfer and we give them that tick of approval.’ The role of the AQF [Australian Qualifications Framework] and other bodies like that, as well as Jobs and Skills Australia, in terms of working with industry and government to put those things in place, is really critical.[53]

5.59Skills accreditations that are portable nationally across locations and industries would also be a powerful response to the growing imperative for reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning.

5.60During this inquiry, the Australian Government announced it would consult with industry and other governments to define the scope, outcomes and benefits of a National Skills Passport. The National Skills Passport concept could combine vocational and higher education qualifications into one record, making it ‘easier for employees to demonstrate their skills, change jobs and upskill… [and] simpler for employers to hire new staff with the skills and qualifications they need’.[54] This initiative formed part of the Australian Government’s promotion of lifelong learning, a key reform direction identified in the Employment White Paper.[55]

The lifelong learning imperative

5.61The global adoption of Industry 4.0 is accelerating the pace of change in manufacturing skills requirements. Australia starts from a difficult position, with a large proportion of small manufacturers, the small scale of its high-tech manufacturing operations, and firms’ limited uptake of Industry 4.0 technologies.

5.62However, participants in this inquiry were consistently confident that existing manufacturing workers can adapt their capabilities to new digital ways of working, as long as learning and development support is available. Many also challenged the stereotype of a hard dividing line between ‘traditional’, ‘unskilled’ trade roles and ‘innovative’, ‘skilled’ advanced manufacturing roles, presenting these skillsets as complementary and equally necessary.

5.63For example, Amaero’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr Barrie Finnin, shared the following story:

There was one guy, a tradesperson, who was concerned that the 3D printing was basically somebody driving a computer, producing a CAD [computer-assisted design] model and pressing ‘print’. He was concerned about what was going to be the job of the fitter and turner. … Frankly, with their understanding of what works and what doesn’t work, they actually adapt very quickly to the new technology. Once they get into it, it’s a real buzz for them. … I’d describe it in this way: so many of the things that we 3D print still need machining operations. You still need to understand: what’s the finished geometric tolerance that I have to achieve with this product, and what’s the best and most productive way to produce the near-net shape that gets me to the last bit? You actually need the tradesman’s mentality to address that. …

‘Digital manufacturing’ means dealing with your manufacturing using a digital framework, which is basically computers. The skill set that you have in dealing with a physical production line is actually being virtualised in a computer. Those skills are transferable. All you have to do is learn how to communicate, through the computer, that set of skills.[56]

5.64As noted above, BAE Systems Australia co-developed a successful digital technologies diploma with Flinders University to upskill its workers in digital shipbuilding methods. This successful program—now widely adopted beyond BAE—was originally developed as an alternative to retrenching workers during a gap between major contracts. As BAE Systems’ Head of Government Relations, Mr William Gibaud, explained:

The digital diploma came about by chance and also by good fortune because, at the end of the previous shipbuilding contract for the air warfare destroyers, around 80 or 90 people were at risk. There was an 18-month gap between the Hunter [frigate] program prototype starting and AWD [air warfare destroyers] finishing, so we took a bit of a risk, a bit of a chance, as a company, to say, ‘Let’s not lose them to the wider resources sector or anywhere else. Let’s put them on a course. We know that they’re going to have to get retrained in this digital way of building, so let’s create this course with Flinders.’ It’s become the standard that’s now set, which is: how do you take a workforce that was used to building a ship that was on paper to now building a ship that is on CAD? This is where it’s been taken forward, from strength to strength.[57]

5.65BAE stressed that government support had been essential—but that its delivery across different portfolios and programs raised challenges:

This program would not have occurred without BAE Systems Australia leadership and without the support of federal and state government funding. However this has been challenged by inconsistent funding. For example, Skilling Australia’s Defence Industry Fund (Department of Defence) has supported SME participation [in the course] but no guaranteed funding beyond March 2026, meaning no further cohorts from mid-2023 as it is a two year program. Women in STEM Cadetship and Advanced Apprenticeship (Dept of Education) has been instrumental in unlocking female participation but highly bureaucratic due to the high number of firms participating with Flinders University. Universities will not invest in program design without guaranteed minimum student cohorts despite industry need.[58]

5.66The inquiry heard that reskilling and upskilling works best when workers are involved in the design of their new jobs. In collaborative robotics, the idea of a new ‘cobotic’ tool is for existing workers to use robots to make their jobs more efficient. As such, workers—as the experts on their jobs—should be involved in designing the new process.[59] The worker is also usually best placed to assess the results from the new process or tool.[60]

5.67The inquiry also heard that workforce reskilling and upskilling requires worker-friendly (and more affordable) alternatives to full-time, on-campus education. For example, the Western Australian Government noted that training to upskill existing skilled workers ‘in digital and other technological developments associated with manufacturing… is expected to be needed on a just-in-time basis through flexible courses, short courses, skill sets or micro-credentials’[61] rather than traditional degree and trade certificate programs.

5.68Learning models that combine industry experience with formal education show promise. However, as noted above, they can conflict with the traditional on-campus delivery models of most educational institutions. For example, when discussing a ‘higher apprenticeships’ pilot program combining a degree or diploma qualification with on-the-job training, Swinburne University noted:

Current state and federal pilots have uncovered significant challenges in participants gaining release from their workplace in order to undertake the practical study components on campus. The majority of students work full time within their organisation and time out for study requires support from their supervisor and senior leadership. This is difficult to manage over a period of time as business needs have periods of influx and these workers often hold critical technical and change agent roles that are difficult to backfill. This is more evident for SMEs who typically have labour supply and retention issues, and shallow talent pools.[62]

5.69Rapid technological change raises re-entry barriers for people returning to the workforce after a career break, such as parental leave, even for highly qualified and capable workers. DMTC saw an opportunity to tap this potential talent pool via reskilling and upskilling programs, in particular to attract well-qualified women into defence manufacturing after maternity leave. DMTC’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Mark Hodge, explained:

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that people who might have left the workforce are a bit intimidated at the idea of coming back. … Is there some work that can be done to get people back into the workforce who might have left, or gone to a different part of the workforce, through a re-acclimatisation period? We’re looking at this in our organisation. Whether it’s research or trade, it doesn't matter. If someone says, ‘Yes, I was an expert in this field before I had my three kids, but it’s moved on so much,’ we can say, ‘You’ve shown us that you can do it. You obviously have all the credentials. Come to work for a couple of months, read the papers, be part of a research team and start to get yourself back up to speed again and then we’ll see what we can do.’[63]

5.70The inquiry also heard that formally recognising workers’ transferable skills, and ensuring accreditations are easily portable across employers, states and industries, would support a more flexible and resilient workforce. Portable qualifications are especially useful in the face of well-known forces of change[64]—such as permanent ‘structural adjustment’ of industries, boom and bust business cycles or new technologies. This approach would also better reflect modern career paths. The Minerals Council argued:

We need to stop looking at the workforce of the future in the construct of work as we know it because people no longer associate themselves, and for a long time haven’t associated themselves, with one industry or one employer. In fact, people associate themselves with their skills and capabilities, where they can take them and where their passions and opportunities take them. We need to adjust to that.[65]

Attracting global talent: skilled migration

5.71The second option for creating a manufacturing workforce is through migration. Many advanced manufacturers use international workers to fill gaps, especially for highly specialised skills.

5.72The percentage of international workers varies greatly across companies and industries, but is usually focused on areas of essential capability. CSL’s workforce includes one to two per cent international workers[66], while AstraZeneca advised that ‘[a]lmost five per cent of our manufacturing workforce are on visas, all of which are critical roles.’[67]

5.73In some industries the percentage is much higher:

Around 60 per cent of engineers in Australia are born overseas, making Australia highly reliant on migration for our engineering skills. With more of a global focus on manufacturing capability, Australia may not be able to rely on international skills to fill the gaps we have locally.[68]

5.74Other industries are constrained from using non-Australian workers for national security reasons. For example, addressing the need to develop a shipbuilding workforce to deliver major defence projects—particularly the AUKUS nuclear submarines—DMTC’s Dr Hodge said Australian defence manufacturers would need to ‘grow our own timber’.[69]

5.75One negative perception of skilled migrant workers is that they will supplant Australian workers in jobs. However, the inquiry heard that that is rarely the case. Given the time and expense of the migration processes, most companies would prefer to hire locally if they could find workers with the right experience and skills.[70]

5.76A major advantage of bringing in international workers is the opportunity to transfer their skills to local staff. For example, CSL recruited an expert manufacturing site leader from Switzerland, who worked in Australia for three years. The specialist trained his Australian replacement[71], and also ‘trained and grew a whole cohort of Australian younger advanced manufacturing scientists’.[72]

5.77Expert migrants also often feed back into the skills system by teaching at universities and running programs and training initiatives—particularly in industries in close collaboration with education institutes. The Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences described this as a ‘positive multiplier effect’.[73]

5.78The Committee received many recommendations for improving manufacturers’ ability to attract global talent.

Streamlining immigration processes

5.79The inquiry heard that the Australian Government could improve aspects of the immigration process. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering described the ideal state of immigration processes as ‘flexible to support changing industry needs, while enabling minimal administrative burdens on applicants and short processing times’.[74] Mr Adam Gilmour of Gilmour Space told the inquiry:

I’ll give you an example of best in class. I used to live and work in Singapore, and I started the space company in Singapore. In Singapore I can get a work visa for a foreign talented engineer in less than a week, and it’s all online.[75]

5.80Australian delays in visa processing and resultant backlogs were mentioned multiple times as a barrier to attracting global talent.[76]

5.81Conversely, the Australian Institute for Machine Learning emphasised the potential upside if Australia were to adopt a more agile approach to visa processing. It argued Australia’s distance from global industry centres actually puts us in a position to absorb skilled professionals made redundant during global industry downturns—if we could respond quickly enough. It noted, for example, that:

Tech giants in the United States such as Google, Meta, Amazon and Twitter have been shedding significant numbers of staff from their operations, providing an opportunity to help fill the skills gap in Australia. However, the length of time it takes to process visa applications is, in our experience, a significant barrier to attracting internationally competitive talent to Australia.[77]

5.82The Committee also heard that immigration processes could better reflect the reduced security risk when recruiting skilled, specialist staff. Gilmour Space questioned the need for detailed checks, given that none of its 30 visa applications for foreign space engineers had ever been rejected.[78]

5.83The Committee also heard recommendations for fast-track visa application processes for vitally important skills. These could be identified as part of a national or sectoral workforce strategy, or by individual companies, and cross-referenced to visa applications to trigger a fast-tracked process.[79] The inquiry heard there may also be merit in creating a specific medical science technology visa pathway.[80]

5.84Similarly, the inquiry heard that short-term visas focused on delivering training on specialist equipment should be expedited. Mr Robert Elliot, Head of Operations (Australia and New Zealand) for pharmaceuticals manufacturer Viatris, stated:

Our equipment is very high technology equipment. We need the [overseas] manufacturers’ expertise to bring our people up to speed… We want these experts to be able to quickly get their visas and come into the country for that three- to six-month period.[81]

5.85Submitters also recommended greater flexibility for visa holders wishing to change companies within Australia, given that their skillset has already been identified as being in short supply. AstraZeneca gave the following example:

We’ve had one instance … where we actually hired someone from another company who was on a workforce shortage visa, and it had to restart the clock for the application process to move it over and that delayed considerably the time frame...[82]

Permanent residency as an incentive to choose Australia

5.86Excessive time to approve a visa operates as a disincentive for skilled workers to choose Australia. However, Australia also has a number of incentives that could be used to entice potential workers.

5.87A frequently suggested incentive during this inquiry is a clear pathway to permanent residency for people with the skillsets we need. Australia is a desirable migration destination, and the Committee heard that a pathway to permanent migration could be a decisive factor for attracting potential skilled workers.[83]

5.88The inquiry heard that current visa term limits of two or four years do not give workers enough certainty to relocate themselves and their families to Australia.[84] This is particularly influential where a worker is considering other countries that do offer the option of migrating permanently.

5.89The inquiry also heard that Australia’s large population of international students represents a valuable but underutilised potential resource for meeting emerging skills needs. Deakin University recommended an increased focus on strengthening career pathways for international students to stay in Australia—including through creating pathways to permanent migration—and pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.[85]

5.90Some submitters noted that attracting overseas talent will become easier when Australian industrial ecosystems reach sufficient scale. The Committee heard that specialist workers are more likely to come to Australia if they can see a future for themselves in an established industry with multiple operators. For example, in relation to biotech manufacturers, Dr Douglas of CSL described how having multiple potential employers helped defray the risk to skilled workers of committing to relocate to Australia.[86]

Enabling capability uplift in small business

5.91As mentioned throughout this report, most Australian manufacturers are small. Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) face challenges both competing for skilled workers and finding the time and resources to climb the steep learning curves of new technologies.

5.92Engineers Australia noted that traditional manufacturers can be unaware of the benefits of Industry 4.0, and guidance on adopting advanced manufacturing is not easily accessible.[87] The Committee heard that Industry 4.0 solutions are not necessarily easy to find or deploy ‘off the shelf’.[88] In many cases, bespoke solutions are required to integrate Industry 4.0 into a legacy or brownfield manufacturing site, which increases design and implementation costs.[89] This can also make it more difficult for business owners to achieve a satisfactory return on investment.[90] These problems are exacerbated for small businesses.

5.93The inquiry heard from several submitters about the importance of common user facilities, innovation precincts, testbeds and demonstration facilities/programs geared to help businesses take the first step. This is linked to the importance of peer networks and ecosystems for ongoing learning.

5.94For example, DMTC’s Dr Hodge described the success of its ‘Smart Enough Factory’ initiative to support small, traditional manufacturers:

[O]ne of the things that we have done is a program called the Smart Enough Factory: ‘You don’t have to go from here to ultimate capability overnight; let’s have a look at what your factory has and we can make it smart enough and start to build up a bit of a walk before you run.’ They’ll get up to a jog and then—if you want to use the analogy of ‘merging into traffic’—they'll merge not from a standing start but from a moving start. … We’ve had fantastic results, with a lot of support from state governments and from the federal government. We require our SMEs to have a bit of skin in the game, put their people on board and make an investment of a couple of thousand dollars. I would say that, universally, that approach has been lauded because it’s demystifying this whole area of Industry 4[.0]. They can understand the art of the possible and they’re not so worried; they’re more informed about making their decisions and those sorts of things.[91]

5.95Swinburne University highlighted its own ‘Factory of the Future’ training program, geared to help SMEs to assess their readiness for Industry 4.0 adoption and develop an action plan.[92] Swinburne suggested:

Extending the availability of SME advanced manufacturers readiness programs and networks would assist to develop shared knowledge, capability, systems and practices across industry clusters. Small to medium manufacturers would benefit from local roundtables where peers and companies could better form clusters and supply chains if they had facilitation support to bring aligned networks together.[93]

5.96The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals highlighted the success of the HunterNet Co-operative founded in Newcastle in 1992, which ‘assists local businesses within the Newcastle and Hunter Region to sustain and grow through collaboration, networking, knowledge exchange and innovation.’[94]

5.97The inquiry heard that cyber security threats—and the lack of know-how to protect against them—are a particular concern for SMEs contemplating Industry 4.0 adoption. The Australian Cobotics Centre recommended governments ‘Support manufacturers to understand cyber security risks, implement mitigation strategies and recover from cyber-attacks’[95]:

Digitisation for advanced manufacturing brings increased risk of cyber-attacks, increased costs to prevent and mitigate cyber security risks, and a growing need for cyber security skills in the manufacturing workforce. Manufacturers are aware of the significant increased risk of cyber threats and the need for capabilities to detect and avoid malicious cyber-attacks. … SMEs should ‘share lessons across industries and communities…to identify opportunities to promote and embed cyber best practice’. Governments can also help to build capabilities to block and detect cyber threats, [and] enhance ability to respond to and recover from cyber-attacks.[96]

5.98Cyber security is an issue for all businesses, but particularly for SMEs working in sensitive industries. DMTC’s Dr Hodge told the inquiry:

… working in defence global supply chains, you’re just not in the game unless you’re digitally enabled; you won’t even get looked at by the prime contractors and global supply chains. But if you run off and do it in the wrong way, you’re throwing yourself open—the white van parked out the front of the shop is getting all of your production data, because you haven’t hardened up your systems for cybersecurity. Who would have thought that a shop in Dandenong would have to do that? But they do.[97]

Other workforce challenges and opportunities

5.99Even with a sufficiently skilled population, manufacturers have to attract staff to their industry, and keep them there over time. On this front, some challenges appear to affect the manufacturing industry as a whole.

Perceptions and values

5.100The appeal of manufacturing careers can be undermined by poor perceptions of manufacturing jobs. Submitters emphasised how perceptions of manufacturing jobs as unskilled, tedious and dirty work did not reflect the reality of advanced manufacturing, with its high levels of computerisation, digital design and use of robotics. Dr Katie Hepworth of the AMWU explained:

… it’s about selling trades as a good career path for workers. … We brought members of our automotive industries together last week. One thing they noted is that trades look really different. Even automotive trades look really different; they are not the dirty jobs of the past—these are the words of the diesel mechanics with whom we were working—but very high-tech and computerised jobs. They look different, and communicating that difference is really crucial as well.

5.101BAE suggested that the focus should be on the increasingly upstream work occurring in the design phase.[98]

5.102The Committee heard that changing public perceptions of modern manufacturing jobs should start at an early age and include all levels of education. Submitters described how their industries make connections with school, university and TAFE communities—attending open days and careers fairs, publishing case studies and hosting site visits, so that everyone can ‘see themselves’ in the industry.[99]

5.103Inquiry participants shared a conviction that diverse individuals should be able to see themselves in manufacturing as a challenging and rewarding career path.[100] There was agreement that manufacturing offers an opportunity to combine elements of STEM knowledge, R&D, engineering know-how, hands-on trade skills and craftsmanship, digital design, computer programming, innovative business models, entrepreneurship, intellectual property and law.

5.104Manufacturing can also make a tangible and positive social and environmental impact. For example, submitters noted the need to tackle perceptions—particularly among younger workers and students—that manufacturing careers do not align with their personal ethical values. As noted by the Harvard Business Review in 2016, ‘Multiple studies have revealed that Millennials are keen to see their work as addressing larger societal concerns—a factor that has affected their career choices more than those of older generations.’[101] The Minerals Council of Australia reported that connecting with ‘the talent of the future’ requires answering challenging questions:

We find that young people today do ask, ‘What about clean energy transition? What about the culture in the industry?’[102]

5.105However, as the Committee witnessed on site visits, perceptions of manufacturing as a dirty, polluting industry may be outdated. The inquiry heard that although some manufacturing industries—particularly clean and renewable energy—are more attractive to younger workers, many are unaware of opportunities to pursue manufacturing careers in this field in Australia. In the bio-medical manufacturing industry, a factor in strong workforce retention is the inspiring nature of the work and its role improving public health.[103]

5.106The manufacturing industry as a whole also struggles to attract workers from non-traditional cohorts—particularly women—as discussed in the next section.

Workforce diversity

5.107The inquiry heard from multiple sources that manufacturing would benefit from a more diverse workforce. Diversity supports improved innovation and problem-solving—both important for advanced manufacturing as a high-technology industry. As explained by DMTC, a ‘diversity of thought and background’ leads to a better and broader approach to finding solutions.[104]

5.108The current manufacturing workforce skews more male and older than the general population. Women are notably under-represented:

We know from the 2021 ABS data … that the gender profile of manufacturing in Australia is much different to the broader Australian workforce. Forty-nine [per cent] of Australian workers are women but only 30 per cent of manufacturing workers are women. And there’s some significant segregation across the sector. Within the manufacturing subsectors, food and textiles are dominated by female employees but all other subsectors are heavily male dominated.[105]

5.109This is particularly evident in some trades:

Only 3.5% of automotive mechanics and electricians are women, 1% [of] mechanical engineers, and 3.4% of panel beaters and vehicle body builders.[106]

5.110Even in industries that have a relatively high proportion of women, there are pockets that are almost exclusively male. For example, across the smart energy ecosystem, around 30–35 per cent of all employees are women, but among rooftop solar panel installers, this drops to about 2 per cent.[107]

5.111Submitters noted structural and policy changes that could encourage more women into manufacturing and improve their retention. Formal reporting and accountability mechanisms—such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency—are making a tangible shift in improving diversity.[108]

5.112NECA suggested a number of practical steps that could be taken to improve the number of women in trades, centring around consolidating a critical mass of women workers at specific women- or family-friendly worksites to achieve (and model) cultural change and a supportive work environment, including adequate peer networks. Federal funding could help attract women to such ‘model’ sites with onsite childcare and afterschool care, dedicated support for cultural change (including the immediate addressing of inappropriate behaviour) and confidential complaint mechanisms.[109]

5.113Even with favourable policy settings, tangible barriers to women’s participation can persist on worksites—including basic issues such as a lack of women’s bathrooms and changing facilities.[110] Unfortunately, sexual harassment also occurs on some male-dominated work sites, and employers are not always aware of their obligations under the Respect at Work legislation.[111]

5.114The inquiry heard that a cultural shift may be needed in some industries to support a more diverse workforce. However, there is assistance available, including the following toolkit:

Initiatives such as ATSE’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit (Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 2022) can be expanded to enable small and medium employers to create workplace cultures and policies requisite to attract and retain this workforce.[112]

5.115As in other industries, the availability of part-time and flexible working arrangements is important for attracting and retaining skilled women. A greater use of digital tools that do not require a solely on-site workforce should lead to increased working from home and hybrid working arrangements.

5.116Part-time and flexible education opportunities would also support more diversity in manufacturing. Deakin University recommends that government-funded education and training programs be available for online and flexible learning opportunities at a range of levels—from ‘microcredentials up to advanced apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees’ to reduce barriers to entry for under-represented groups.[113] Such flexibility would also support lifelong learning, as discussed previously.

Less physically able workers

5.117Many traditional factory line jobs were physically demanding, and unable to be performed by less physically able workers. Advanced manufacturing is changing this.

5.118In work that does require physical tasks, the increase in collaborative robotics can reduce the demands on the worker. Collaborative robotics or ‘cobotics’ involves people and robots working together on a task in a shared space—as opposed to fully automated tasks performed by a robot, or fully manual tasks performed by a person with tools. The use of cobotics means that workers with less physical strength can still perform demanding physical tasks.

5.119The Australian Cobotics Centre points out that there are fewer younger workers in manufacturing, with workers aged 22–41 making up 44 per cent of the total Australian workforce but only 40 per cent of manufacturing. Cobotics could help keep the valuable skills of older manufacturing employees at work, and reduce the need for early retirement due to health or physical reasons.[114]

5.120Physical ability also becomes less important as machines become easier to use. Monash University advised that:

With the help of advanced AI technologies, training and using machines will become much more intuitive and user-friendly. Interacting with machines will become more natural, with humans able to use gestures, eye movements, and other forms of communication to control and direct machines to complete required tasks.[115]

Disadvantaged groups

5.121More generally, the inquiry heard that the vocational education and training (VET) sector is a critical pathway for disadvantaged Australians to access advanced manufacturing careers. NECA moreover contended that this role benefits the economy as a whole:

A key takeaway from the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit was that supporting people at the margins of the labour market (under-represented groups) is not just a social imperative, but one of the most important economic levers we can pull.[116]

5.122NECA also warned that government and employee groups should be mindful of the stories told about VET. There is a risk that relying on real student stories that emphasise overcoming hardship and obstacles to enter and succeed in vocational education emphasises the ‘despite the odds trope [and] feeds the myth that VET is the tertiary second choice’.[117]

Committee comment

Education and training

5.123The need for a skilled workforce will continue to be one of the main constraints for developing advanced manufacturing into the future. The Committee considers that a multi-pronged approach is needed: improving education at all levels, ensuring that every person can access manufacturing jobs, and becoming a globally competitive destination for skilled workers from other countries.

5.124As with financial incentives, government programs aimed at improving skills shortages in the manufacturing sector should take into account the particular needs and challenges of SMEs.

5.125One of the other main messages heard during this inquiry was the need for post-secondary education to be considered as a whole—within an overarching policy framework that addresses universities and vocational education. The Committee recognises that many workers will need both university education and technical skills over the course of increasingly changeable manufacturing careers.

5.126The Committee notes the current process to develop an Australian Universities Accord—in particular the requirement to review the connection between the VET and higher education systems in the terms of reference.[118] As the final report of the Accord process is still pending, the Committee does not make a recommendation regarding post-secondary education at this time.


5.127The Committee notes the example of DMTC’s ‘Smart Enough Factory’ initiative and similar programs tailored to support Industry 4.0 adoption by SMEs. In conjunction with common user facilities, demonstration/teaching factories and testbeds (discussed in Chapter 4), the Committee considers such training models strong candidates for government support and scale-up, noting the high proportion of relatively low-tech SMEs among Australian manufacturers.

Recommendation 7

5.128The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review existing examples of education and training programs specifically to support SMEs to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies, and explore opportunities to support and scale up the most successful models.

Skilled migration

5.129Improvements to the migration system are currently underway, particularly in relation to the timeliness of visa processing. The Committee acknowledges the disruption to the migration program caused by the pandemic, and also the need to ensure that visas are issued consistently and after the appropriate background checks. However, the Committee considers that there is still room for improvement in the availability of visas to address skills shortages, with a particular focus on fast-track processing for short-term specialist staff coming to Australia to provide training or transfer skills.

5.130The Committee also considers that Australia should be actively seeking to improve its global competitiveness as an immigration destination for skilled workers.

Recommendation 8

5.131The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider implementing:

  • a fast-track process for visas for certain specialist advanced manufacturing workers that come to Australia for six months or less for the purposes of delivering training or skills transfer
  • clearer pathways to permanent residency for certain specialist advanced manufacturing workers.

Workforce diversity

5.132The Committee notes that the manufacturing workforce is currently not representative of the Australian population as a whole. Under-represented groups are a pool of potential workers within Australia that could be supported to work in manufacturing to address labour and skills shortages.

5.133The largest group of under-represented workers in manufacturing is women. Of the range of initiatives that the Committee heard to increase the participation and retention of women, the designation of female- and family-friendly ‘model’ worksites, to ensure access to a supportive cohort, female bathrooms and changing facilities and childcare, and to achieve the critical mass to change culture, has particular merit.

5.134The Committee also sees potential in support for re-entry or re-acclimatisation pathways for skilled workers returning to industry after a prolonged career break, such as maternity leave.

Recommendation 9

5.135The Committee recommends that, when developing policies and programs aimed at improving women’s participation in advanced manufacturing, the Australian Government should take note of initiatives in the field with a track record of success attracting and retaining women workers—such as female- and family-friendly ‘model’ worksites to attract and retain a critical mass of female employees, and re-entry or re-acclimatisation pathways for skilled women after a prolonged career break.

Recommendation 10

5.136The Committee recommends that the Australian Government:

  • assess the barriers to currently under-represented groups—including women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds—pursuing careers in advanced manufacturing
  • develop a national strategy, in collaboration with industry and education and training organisations, to improve the participation of currently under-represented groups.


[1]Dr Jonathan Roberts, Director, Australian Cobotics Centre, and Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 8.

[2]Mr Alastair Bacon, Manufacturing Quality Director, BAE Systems Australia, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 May 2023, p. 1.

[3]Dr Roberts, Australian Cobotics Centre and QUT, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 11.

[4]Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), Submission 17, p. 10.

[5]Dr Paul Savage, Deputy and Science Director, Manufacturing, CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 19.

[6]Dr Melinda Laundon, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Human–Robot Workforce Research Program, Australian Cobotics Centre and QUT, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 9.

[7]Ms Penny George, Director of Corporate Affairs, AstraZeneca, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 7.

[8]La Trobe University, Submission 44, p. 3.

[9]Dr Mark Hodge, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), DMTC Limited (formerly the Defence Materials Technology Centre), Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 37.

[10]Ms Karolina Szukalska, General Manager, Workforce and Innovation, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 52.

[11]Smart Energy Council, Submission 48, p. 6.

[12]Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, Submission 39, p. 7.

[13]Science & Technology Australia, Submission 41, p. 5.

[14]Professor Bernard Rolfe, Associate Dean, Research, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 27.

[15]Mr Bacon, BAE Systems Australia, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 May 2023, p. 5.

[16]Gilmour Space, Submission 31, p. 2.

[17]Dr Katie Hepworth, National Political Adviser, AMWU, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 25.

[18]The Committee also heard that TAFEs are also struggling to attract younger or reskilled instructors who can teach new technologies: Mr Wayne Smith, External Affairs Manager, Smart Energy Council, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 24 May 2023, p. 4.

[19]Dr Hepworth, AMWU, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 26.

[20]Dr Hepworth, AMWU, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 26.

[21]National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), Submission 47, pages 6–7.

[22]Ms Lisa Emerson, Modern Manufacturing Commissioner, Investment NSW, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 24 July 2023, p. 7.

[23]Deakin University, Submission 10, p. 9.

[24]Professor Rolfe, Deakin University, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 31.

[25]Mr David Reeves, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor, Deakin University, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 31.

[26]Deakin University, Submission 10, p. 10.

[27]NECA, Submission 47, pages 2–5.

[28]Swinburne University of Technology, Submission 56, p. 2.

[29]Swinburne University, Submission 56, p. 3.

[30]Swinburne University, Submission 56, p. 5.

[31]Australian Cobotics Centre, Submission 55, p. 8.

[32]Hon Anthony Albanese MP, Prime Minister, and Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Skills and Training, ‘Landmark national skills agreement to unlock billions’, Media Release, 17 October 2023; Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, National Skills Agreement,, viewed 9 November 2023.

[33]Hon Jim Chalmers MP, Treasurer, ‘Turbocharging TAFE centres of excellence and accelerating apprenticeships’, Media Release, 25 September 2023.

[34]BAE Systems Australia, Submission 35, p. 5.

[35]Australian Industrial Transformation Institute (Flinders University), Submission 9, p. 2.

[36]Amaero International Limited, Submission 42, p. 5.

[37]Mr Adam Gilmour, CEO, Gilmour Space, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 2.

[38]Mr Gilmour, Gilmour Space, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 2.

[39]For example through internships: ResMed, Submission 26, p. 2; Professor Rolfe, Deakin University, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 28.

[40]DMTC, Submission 32, p. 5.

[41]Monash University, Submission 15, p. 3.

[42]Dr Savage, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 20.

[43]Monash University, Submission 15, p. 3.

[44]CSIRO, Submission 23, p. 5.

[45]Dr Brad Walsh, Member, Pathology Technology Australia, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 20.

[46]For example: Dr Andrea Douglas, Vice President, Strategic Industry Engagement, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 11.

[47]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 52.

[48]Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 9.

[49]Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 9.

[50]Mr William (Bill) Downie, Executive Director and Head of Supply and Manufacturing, AstraZeneca, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 11. See also similar comments by Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, pages 9–10.

[51]Cell Therapies Pty Ltd, Submission 27, p. 8.

[52]Mr Bacon, BAE Systems Australia, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 May 2023, p. 4.

[53]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 53.

[54]Hon Jim Chalmers MP, Treasurer; Hon Jason Clare MP, Minister for Education; and Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Skills and Training, ‘National Skills Passport’, Media Release, 24 September 2023.

[55]Department of the Treasury, Working Future: The Australian Government’s White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities, September 2023,, viewed 9 November 2023, p. 214.

[56]Mr Barrie Finnin, Chief Technology Officer, Amaero, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 45.

[57]Mr William Gibaud, Head of Government Relations, BAE Systems Australia, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 May 2023, p. 3.

[58]BAE Systems Australia, Submission 35, p. 5.

[59]Dr Roberts, Australian Cobotics Centre and QUT, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 10.

[60]Associate Professor Cori Stewart, CEO, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Hub (ARM) Hub, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 21.

[61]Government of Western Australia, Submission 51, p. 31.

[62]Swinburne University, Submission 56, p. 3.

[63]Dr Hodge, DMTC, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 39.

[64]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 53.

[65]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 53.

[66]Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 10.

[67]Ms George, AstraZeneca, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 7.

[68]Engineers Australia, Submission 16, p. 6.

[69]Dr Hodge, DMTC, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 37.

[70]Mr Andrew Price, President, Operations, ResMed, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 4.

[71]Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 10.

[72]Professor Andrew Cuthbertson, Fellow, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 29.

[73]Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, Submission 19, p. 3.

[74]Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Submission 3, p. 4.

[75]Mr Gilmour, Gilmour Space, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, pages 4–5.

[76]For example: Mr Robert Elliot, Head of Operations, Australia and New Zealand, Viatris, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 36.

[77]Australian Institute for Machine Learning, Submission 21, p. 6.

[78]Mr Gilmour, Gilmour Space, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 5.

[79]Mr Sylvain Vigneault, Country Manager, Australia, and Commercial Lead, New Zealand, Viatris, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 36.

[80]Mr Price, ResMed, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 2.

[81]Mr Elliot, Viatris, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 36.

[82]Mr Downie, AstraZeneca, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 11.

[83]Australian Dairy Products Federation, Submission 49, p. 17.

[84]Ms Vered Keisar, Chief People Officer, ResMed, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 4.

[85]Deakin University, Submission 10, p. 8.

[86]Dr Douglas, CSL, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 11.

[87]Engineers Australia, Submission 16, p. 7.

[88]CSIRO, Submission 23, p. 9.

[89]Australian Steel Institute, Submission 25, p. 7.

[90]Australian Steel Institute, Submission 25, p. 7.

[91]Dr Hodge, DMTC, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 38.

[92]Swinburne University, Submission 56, p. 8.

[93]Swinburne University, Submission 56, p. 8.

[94]Business Council of Co-Operatives and Mutuals, Submission 28, p. 15.

[95]Australian Cobotics Centre, Submission 55, p. 2.

[96]Australian Cobotics Centre, Submission 55, p. 5.

[97]Dr Hodge, DMTC, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 38.

[98]Mr Bacon, BAE Systems Australia, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 31 May 2023, p. 2.

[99]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 52.

[100]Associate Professor Stewart, ARM Hub, Committee Hansard, Brisbane 25 July 2023, p. 21.

[101]T Benson, ‘Motivating Millennials Takes More Than Flexible Work Policies’, Harvard Business Review, 11 February 2016,, viewed 12 October 2023.

[102]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 51.

[103]Mr Elliot, Viatris, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 36.

[104]Dr Hodge, DMTC, Committee Hansard, West Melbourne, 3 May 2023, p. 40.

[105]Dr Laundon, Australian Cobotics Centre and QUT, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 9.

[106]AMWU, Submission 17, p. 9.

[107]Mr Smith, Smart Energy Council, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 24 May 2023, p. 3.

[108]Ms Szukalska, Minerals Council of Australia, Committee Hansard, 3 May 2023, p. 53.

[109]NECA, Submission 47, pages 11–13.

[110]Dr Hepworth, AMWU, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 5 July 2023, p. 26.

[111]Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022.

[112]Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Submission 3, p. 4.

[113]Deakin University, Submission 10, p. 9.

[114]Dr Laundon, Australian Cobotics Centre and QUT, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 July 2023, p. 9.

[115]Monash University, Submission 15, p. 4.

[116]NECA, Submission 47, p. 8.

[117]NECA, Submission 47, p. 9.

[118]Department of Education, Review of Australia’s Higher Education System – Terms of Reference, November 2022,, viewed 12 October 2023.