Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand), Operations and Maintenance, Workforce, Certification & Training, Social Governance and Inclusion

Rail skills forum tackles workforce shortage

workforce shortage


Leaders from government, transport, education, skills, and unions are joining with international experts in Melbourne today to tackle a chronic workforce shortage in Australia’s rail industry.

With a $155 billion national pipeline of rail modernisation projects over the next 15 years, the first Future Rail Skills Forum heard that for Australia to attract the 70,000 more people rail needs the industry must become more attractive to women and young people.

Rail will also need more people with digital skills – with key digital roles expected to grow in the rail sector by 54 per cent over the next five years, as the technology pivots from mechanical to digital.

Identifying how to attract diverse and younger workers, and develop the digital skills needed now and into the future, is a key topic for the forum, hosted by the National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Australasian Railway Association.

The forum will hear that long hours, high stress and a chronic lack of diversity would not work with prospective employees, who are looking for more flexibility and positive work cultures.

Internationally, efforts to address skills gaps and workforce shortage have helped avoid significant cost over-runs on major infrastructure projects and deliver efficiencies of between 10 and 40 per cent.

While female participation in rail is increasing in Australia, numbers are still low with women making up just 24 percent of the rail workforce (and only 11 per cent in rail freight). The rail industry also remains highly fragmented with the skills of the existing 165,000 people working in rail not recognised across borders.

The NTC’s research through its National Rail Skills Hub has found that only 11 percent of current enrolments in rail-related training are women; but there are positive signs that rail organisations who take diversity seriously are getting much better results.

Jacobs, for example, has lifted female leadership in its Australian operations through piloting programs for emerging women leaders, introducing flexible working toolkits and continuing to analyse and remedy the gender pay gap annually.

Women in rail who have shared their experience with the National Rail Skills Hub said they were attracted by the flexibility their jobs provide, the opportunities they get to use and grow their skills.

Skills and training minister Brendan O’Connor said rail could run on an old business model that starts with locking out half the workforce.

“Rail needs more young people, women, people of diverse backgrounds, and a diversity of thinking,” he said.

“Collaboration across industry, government and unions is key to creating a rail workforce for the future, which must include more women, young people and people from diverse backgrounds.

“We have established Jobs and Skills Councils to help address skills shortage and other workforce challenges.”

NTC chief executive Michael Hopkins said governments around the world were recognising the need to invest in rail to help decarbonise the economy and support population growth and greater productivity.

“To do that, we need to attract 70,000 more people into rewarding careers in rail and recognise people’s skills from all backgrounds,” he said.

ARA chief executive Caroline Wilkie said as industry faced the combined challenges of a significant skills gap and changing workforce needs, strong collaboration between industry and government would be essential to develop a sustainable skills pipeline that meets rail’s current and future requirements.

“The ARA looks forward to working closely with the NTC to continue to support a strong and diverse rail workforce for the future,” she said.


“In the past we struggled to get people to apply for jobs and now we’re finding people are coming to us because of our culture.” – Somoud Al Masri, Director of Sales Operations, Jacobs

“I had no idea that rail was so exciting and innovative .. there are so many opportunities to do new things.” – Kawtar Hadjadj, rail consultant, Systra

“I’ve found a real sense of purpose working in rail. There are so many rail infrastructure projects going on.” -Donna Daly, human factors specialist, Arup

“What I love about rail is the diversity of opportunities, the support of the training and the passion of the people.” – Renae Carter, transformation delivery manager, Queensland Rail