Skilled migration forum interim report
The rail industry is experiencing skill shortages in key engineering and technical/trade areas. Even in the face of the recent global financial crisis the rail industry still needs to address current and imminent skills shortages. Expansion through infrastructure projects and domestic competition for highly skilled labour with other industry sectors creates a complex picture. Any strategies to address these issues must be developed through a comprehensive awareness of these levels of complexity. The bureaucratic maze and shifting sands of migration policy in relation to temporary and permanent employer sponsored skilled migration can act as a major deterrent to the rail industry in exploring the possibilities this pathway to securing highly skilled labour supply can offer. One of the main purposes of the Skilled Migration Forum was to better inform industry representatives about the practical requirements and realities of recruiting skilled migrants both onshore and offshore through the various skilled migration visa options.
Shortages in mission critical skill sets is a reality the rail industry must face and a set of strategies to combat this is needed. Skilled migration offers one such strategy. The Rail Revolution Report (2008) and the Changing Face of Rail Report (2007) identified specific skill shortages within the rail industry. The Changing Face of Rail Report (2007) analysed employment trends in the Australasian rail industry and concluded that industry expansion was not supported by a strategy to enable workforce capacity to deliver. The report also found that outsourcing tends to attract staff away from core operators in times of constrained supply of skilled labour, and age was an important factor in the workforce profile. The following key points were made:
• The problem of an ageing workforce is felt more acutely in rail since the average age of employees in the industry is relatively higher that the general workforce population (the age profile of the industry resembles an inverse bell curve).
• Core rail occupations are heavily impacted by ageing and are the subject of off shore ‘poaching’ (ARA 2007, p.2). Extensive labour market analysis was undertaken for the Rail Revolution Report (2008) which forecast trends in rail labour force needs that have never been experienced before. The greatest need for specific skills sets is across the engineer job family, in addition to the trades and trades equivalent job family. The Report estimated that rail will need to access the following numbers of key skill sets for the next five years to meet demand and cover loss through age retirement:
• 250-340 engineers every year for the next five years (41% loss of current workforce over next 5 years). • 500-700 trades people every year for the next five years (40% loss over next 5 years due to retirements and separations).
• 420-700 operations staff every year for the next five years
These skill shortages are felt more acutely in regional and remote areas. The Rail Revolution Report (2008) also lists a series of nine strategies for combating future skills development and workforce capacity building. Two of these strategies are embedded in the Skilled Migration project:
• Strategy 4: Establish more effective migration arrangements.
• Strategy 9: Conduct regular stakeholder communication of workforce risks and strategies.
A major objective of the Skilled Migration Project was to bring together key stakeholders to share and exchange ideas and information about strategies for skilled migration to address industry specific skill shortages and future skill development within the rail industry. A major premise behind the idea of the Skilled Migration Forum was that industry would benefit greatly from initiating dialogue between key industry representatives, government bodies, professional organisations and education providers to discuss innovative ideas to address critical skills issues affecting rail. The Skilled Migration Forum provided a unique opportunity for key stakeholders to come together to exchange information and ideas around issues pertaining to identified skill shortages and future labour supplies within the rail industry. It was hoped the Skilled Migration Forum would generate interest in the concept of a Skilled Migration Creativity Hub that would continue to develop and work towards innovative strategies to address critical skills shortages through dialogue, information sharing, networking, strategic partnerships and collaborative projects. The Skilled Migration Creativity Hub concept is one of a multi-agency incubator for innovative concepts aimed at skilled migration priorities for the rail industry including the identification of possible international partnerships between industry and educational providers focused on future skills development for the rail industry. The Skilled Migration Forum was attended by 60 participants from a diverse range of industry representatives and stakeholders and involved individual presentations, panel presentations and group work. The Forum decided upon 5 major issues/themes which were workshopped on day 2 of the Forum:
Theme 1: Overseas Recruitment /Skilled Migration Information Kit
Theme 2: Attracting and Retaining Skilled Migrants
Theme 3: Recruitment of Onshore Skilled Migrants
Theme 4: Long term labour supply – graduates of the future: traditional source countries and untapped source countries
Theme 5: Targeting women for Skilled Migration
Joyce, D & Cameron, R 2010, Skilled migration interim report, report prepared for CRC for Rail Skilled Migration Project.
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