20 April 2006

Australia looks abroad for automotive workers

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South Australia's $8 billion-a-year retail motor industry has been forced to look overseas for skilled workers. Facing critical shortages of motor mechanics, auto electricians, spray painters and panel beaters, the Motor Trade Association has asked the Immigration Department to send skilled migration experts to Adelaide to help recruit offshore.

There are vacancies across the industry, and not only in South Australia. Over 50% of the county's automotive industry is located in Victoria, in and around Melbourne.

MTA executive director John Chapman says the association sponsored more than 550 apprentices and trainees and channelled them at top speeds into the industry, but it's just not enough.

Mr. Chapman said the industry could place 50 qualified tradespeople tomorrow.

An industry survey last year revealed that eighty-five per cent of MTA members reported a shortage of tradespeople and most were not confident the position would improve in the short term.

Mr. Chapman predicts staff shortages will have worsened over the past year, but a survey being conducted next month will provide more concrete answers. BAsed on member feedback, Mr. Chapman feels the challenge of finding skilled labour will have increased since last year. He said that in the case of South Australia, finding sufficient workers was a "significant challenge" given SA's low population growth rate, ageing population, low unemployment and strong economic growth.

Mr. Chapman noted that the industry has been forced to look abroad because demand is outstripping the industry's ability to supply labour.

Mr. Chapman, however, said the industry was mindful other countries were doing likewise. Global competition for skilled workers was intense.

He said the MTA initially would send delegations to Britain in the hope of encouraging interest in jobs in Adelaide and regional SA.

Vice-president Colin Clarke, who runs Traction Tyre Services, recently recruited a tyre fitter from Britain after he could not find suitably-qualified candidates locally.

He said there still was a "tendency" among vocational advisers to push tertiary education ahead of a trades career.

Last year, the Australian Government announced it would expand its skilled migration intake to 120,000 people a year; Mr. Chapman said the challenge for SA was to ensure it got its share.

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