The Resource Channel

Filling the Trade and Operator skills void

It is anticipated that the Australian resource sector will be short 36,000 tradespeople by 2015.  With 90 approved projects already underway across the mining and oil and gas sectors, the impact is already being felt on construction sites in Western Australia and Queensland in particular.

Two key initiatives have recently emerged offering industry, effective and timely solutions to fill the void.

The first is an increase in cooperation and collaboration amongst operators in establishing training facilities and programs.  Recognising that it is both costly and a duplication of already-depleted training resources, companies are working together to agree on consistent training programs, competency frameworks, delivery modes and centralised facilities. 

An example of this is the $100 million technology and learning complex recently opened by GE Oil & Gas in Perth, Western Australia, to support the development of skills for the oil and gas sector and provide its first in-country support and maintenance centre for the upstream industry.

The biggest complex of its kind in Australia, the scope of the project has grown from $80 million to $100 million in response to overwhelming feedback and demand from the oil and gas industry in Western Australia. GE Oil & Gas expects to deliver 4,000 training days in 2012 and has already begun to service its major equipment at the centre.

This will be the first GE facility to offer the full range of technical training required to meet both the demands of the resources boom in Australia and the need to increase productivity in the sectors facing this rising demand.

The service centre will be supporting, among others, key equipment employed in liquefied natural gas (LNG) trains that compress and refrigerate natural gas transforming it into liquid so that it can be transported. Every day an LNG train is out of action can cost up to $15 million, so maximising uptime and optimising maintenance schedules plays a crucial role in productivity. GE’s centre will provide in-country maintenance, reducing downtime while parts are serviced overseas and creating a secondary service industry in the region.

Chevron Australia, which operates the Gorgon and Wheatstone projects, is one of the key energy companies set to train hundreds of its Perth engineering and technical staff at the GE facility.

Chevron has so far invested $12 million on recruiting and training 40 apprentices and trainees in preparation for when the Gorgon LNG and domestic gas plant became operational.  Chevron also employs 120 university graduates across a range of oil and gas related fields.

As part of the program, GE Oil & Gas has partnered with Chevron, Woodside, ConocoPhilips, Manufacturing Skills Australia, Navitas, the Australian Centre for Energy and Process Training, and Apprenticeships Australia to create a Community of Technical Best Practice. This initiative has received funding and support from the Australian Federal Government in recognition of the impact it will have on the skills shortage in the resources market. The federal government and the Critical Skills Investment Fund have also invested A$2.67 million towards the training centre to build the community of technical best practice.

The second major initiative is the National Apprenticeships Program (NAP).  Developed by East Coast Apprenticeships and launched in March 2011 by the Federal Minister for Skills and Jobs, Senator Chris Evans, the program has quickly become a multi-stakeholder initiative with growing support from the minerals, resources and energy sectors, governments, and training providers.

East Coast Apprenticeships, as the appointed Program Manager, is a not-for-profit organisation now offering the Advanced Entry Adult Apprenticeship scheme – an innovative alternative for Australians with extensive trade-related skills and experience, but not necessarily a formal qualification, to complete trade training, potentially within 18 months.

The competency-based Program delivers tailor-made training which offers a trade qualification, without compromise, potentially inside the 18 months timeframe and well short of the traditional four year apprenticeship.  The minimum intake for an organisation is 25 and training will be supported by a Group Training Organisation.  In addition, apprentices will be required to attend up to 12 weeks of college, in the city or town from where they were recruited.

Not only is the program unique in its timeframe and competency-based model, but an entry level requirement is an acceptance by the Apprentice that, once indentured, they will work on any site around Australia that the employer requires for the duration of the apprenticeship.  

With companies such as Macmahon, Anglo American and more recently Bechtel – who announced an intake of 400 adult apprentices – already signed onto the program, it is allowing the industry to build a significant pool of qualified trades in a condensed timeframe.  At the same time, the in-built flexibility of the program means apprentices will be required to work across Australian sites under conditions – rosters, pay and industrial agreements – specific to each employer and/or site.

To date, more than 2,250 applications have been received from across the country, expressing interest in a range of trades for the three intakes underway.

NAP is currently screening candidates for 600 positions, with more contracts expected to be announced shortly.

Six trades are being offered at this stage – Electrical Fitter Mechanic, Dual Trade Electrical/Instrumentation, Engineering Fabrication Trade – Boiler Maker/Welder, Engineering Diesel Fitter, Mechanical Fitter and Carpentry Formworkers.

The program has two stages:

Recognition of Prior Learning – a formal assessment of existing trade skills through SkillsTech Australia, (TAFE) demonstrating applicants have at least 40% of aligned trade skills.

Gap training – which is tailored to the individual’s and industry’s requirements.

Likely candidates, usually aged between 25 and 45, include:

people who have partly completed an apprenticeship;

permanent Australian residents with overseas qualifications not yet recognised in Australia;

ex-members of the defence forces with trade-aligned skills

people with other related trade qualifications

trades assistants from the construction and engineering trades

The recruitment process is a specified 100 day timeframe.  Applicants have just 30 calendar days to fulfill RPL requirements and to provide evidence such as workplace testimonials and references, and prior qualifications and photographs to support work history.

Both represent major initiatives, which not only draw on available government funding but on an increased level of collaboration and cooperation across the sector to develop a skilled and flexible labour pool to resource project pipeline.

About the author

Jody Elliott is the founder and director of The Resource Channel, the leading, award-winning employment news and job board website for the Australian resource sector covering mining, oil and gas, and construction.  She has 15 years in management roles with major resource sector employers and is a regular speaker at conferences and in the media.

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