Goldfields Railway infrastructure project creating regional rail skills pathway

A joint program is developing practical skills in rail for indigenous and vulnerable people in partnership with the Victorian Goldfields Railway.

The project brings together the heritage Victorian Goldfields Railway, with the Mount Alexander Shire Council, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and the Centre for Excellence in Rail Training(CERT).

Participants will assist with upgrading rail infrastructure between Castlemaine and Maldon, managed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, while progressing to a Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure.

The partnership is supported by $90,000 from the Victorian government’s Flexible Local Transport Solutions Program. The program provides funding for local transport initiatives, services and infrastructure in regional Victoria.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said the unique collaboration would deliver long-term benefits.

“We know how important that first step on the ladder to meaningful employment is – this training program will deliver strong job prospects to local jobseekers and boost Victoria’s strong field of transport infrastructure talent.”

Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions at Engenco, the parent company of CERT, said that the training deliver will be tailored to the needs of the project while providing an ongoing pathway.

“CERT’s Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure will be contextualised to the needs of the Victorian Goldfields Infrastructure Project to ensure candidates are all job ready and motivated to further develop their careers on such an exciting regional Victorian project,” he said.

“CERT has extensive experience in delivering career development programs in regional rail infrastructure projects and continues to work with industry and all levels of government to facilitate employment pathways for new entrant and indigenous job seekers.”

In-kind support worth over $50,000 is being contributed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, and president Steve Strangward said the project would speed up completion of the project.

“The program will accelerate completing a $2 million major infrastructure and track upgrade currently underway.”

Government funding supports up to 100 KiwiRail apprentices

KiwiRail will employ 100 new apprentices, thanks to government funding from the Regional Apprenticeship Initiative.

The New Zealand infrastructure manager and rail operator will receive $4 million to support the employment of up to 100 apprentices who will have a pathway into employment in the rail industry.

Apprenticeships will involve areas such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electricity supply, rail operations, building/structures, and track infrastructure. Job roles will include signals and electrical specialists, train drivers, and track staff.

To facilite the training component, KiwiRail will also establish four new apprenticeship qualifications, taking the total number of qualifications to six.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said the apprenticeships would not only ensure the trainees’ future, but the longevity of the company.

“The new qualifications will make rail more than just a job – they will make it a rewarding career – and help ensure KiwiRail has the new blood and skills it needs for a strong future,” he said.

With the funding support from the government, which KiwiRail will match with in-kind and cash contributions, will expand the depth of the rail industry workforce.

“This government support for apprenticeships will help us attract more young people into rail, including through a school gateway programme, and it will allow us to create a clear, sustainable pathway for them to learn skills and progress in the businesses,” said Miller.

Apprentices will be employed in the regions, however applications are open to anyone. Some apprenticeships will be offered to existing staff for upskilling, but most will be delivered to new staff.

“There is a wealth of experience and knowledge among KiwiRail’s staff and I want to see that passed down to the next generation,” said Miller.

“KiwiRail is committed to delivering an efficient and effective rail system for New Zealand – that can help take trucks off our roads and reduce our carbon emissions – but that can’t be done without people.”

Apprentices who are employed by KiwiRail will have a workforce development adviser assigned to them to provide pastoral care and ongoing support to enable the apprenticeship to be successfully maintained.

Preparing for the growth ahead

CEO of the ARA Caroline Wilkie writes that a cohort of young people looking for opportunities have the talents to fill rail’s skills gap.

In a year that has been more about preserving jobs than creating them, the concept of skills shortages can be a difficult one to reconcile.

However, the impact of this year’s events has not changed the fact that a very real and significant skills gap looms in the rail industry.

The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) 2018 skills capability study found the rail industry was staring down the barrel of a 24 per cent skills gap on current employment levels by 2024.

The gap existed across the spectrum, from technicians, trades and operators to managers and rail professionals.

Clearly, this is an area where action is needed if we are to make the most of the significant investment pipeline of the coming decades.

The National Rail Action Plan skills and labour working group, which I co-chair, is currently looking at how the industry can address this issue.

The group is bringing together key people from across the industry to inform this
work and I look forward to reporting on our progress as time goes on.

In the meantime, the ARA is continuing to advance its skills agenda.

As more rail projects come online, there will obviously be a need for the development of skill sets that are specific to the rail industry.

We will need a stronger focus on skills and education to achieve this.

The ARA is advocating for the development of a dedicated skills academy that offers targeted solutions to meet the industry’s future needs.

This will not only ensure the focus is firmly on the technical requirements of the industry but will also ensure a strong culture of safety and excellence can be embedded in training programs before people even enter the rail workforce.

And the time to create this capability is now. Because young people in particular are looking for new and rewarding career opportunities more than ever.

Even before the impact of COVID-19, conditions were not good for those just starting their careers.

In July, the Productivity Commission released a working paper that found the weak labour market that had emerged after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis had been bad news for young people.

In the decade that followed, there were full time jobs became harder to come by as part time employment began to rise.

Young people started on lower wages and found it harder to find their chosen roles, despite having a good education behind them.

For those who took a job that was less than what they hoped for just to get their start, their career trajectory did not always recover, and better jobs did not always come along.

Those challenges have only been compounded this year, with young people hit harder than most by job losses and employment insecurity in the wake
of the pandemic.

In this toughest of climates, there will be exceptional young people looking for career options that will last a lifetime, take them all over the world if they choose, and allow them to work in diverse roles on exciting projects.

What better time than now for the rail industry to step forward?

As an industry, a key part of attracting the best young people to work in
rail over the coming years will be highlighting the benefits we have to offer – both to individuals and the broader community.

The ARA’s Young Leaders Advisory Board has identified sustainability as one of its focus areas to do just that.

Speaking to the industry’s young leaders, we have heard time and again how the sustainability credentials of the industry, and the essential community service it provides, has been a driving force in determining their future in rail.

They tell us that seeing the industry’s role in helping people and businesses in their daily life is part of what makes them enjoy working in rail so much.

They also see the value of sustainable, long term infrastructure development in rail that can take more congestion off our roads and better connect our cities and towns than ever before.

The fact that the projects they work on are exciting, dynamic, innovative and ever- changing is icing on the cake.

It is these benefits that has led to many of our young leaders staking their claim for a long-term career in rail.

And it is these benefits, together with the opportunity to gain the skills needed to succeed in the industry, that will help us attract the next cohort of rail workers.

So, while we deal with the challenges 2020 has given us, we must also prepare for the growth that will follow in the years ahead.

Having the right people with the right skills in place will be key to our success.

Rethinking recruitment in rail freight

Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham highlights that government and industry have to work together to attract a diverse, young workforce.

It will not come as news to those involved in freight rail that we need to attract a younger, more diverse talent pool to protect the sustainability of the industry’s workforce. At the same time, we must recognise that this won’t simply happen of its own accord.

There is ample research available that indicates the millennial generation of workers is more mobile and more likely to change jobs and industries than any of their forebears. A 2016 survey undertaken by Gallup noted that 21 per cent of millennials had left their job to do something else within the preceding 12 months – a figure three times higher than that for non-millennials.

More strikingly, the same research reported that six in ten millennials say they are open to new job opportunities outside their current organisation – again, far higher than figures reported for other cohorts.

On the face of it, this should be positive news for the rail transport. However, the fact that younger workers are willing to take a look at other industries will only be of benefit if they like what they see.

Regrettably, the freight transport sector suffers from a continuing perception problem around its ability to welcome female participants to its workforce, as well as those from diverse cultural backgrounds.

This is a considerable barrier to the attraction and retention of younger workers, who make their career choices (at least in part) on an organisation’s commitment to gender equity and diversity.

As well as dealing with diversity issues, the sector’s workforce must also address the fact that the increasing influence of technology across the industry will demand a broader range of skills than may have previously been required.

Although these efforts must be industry-led, there is certainly scope for governments to play a greater role in making certain the transport sector’s workforce is prepared for a changing world.

Many industry participants continue to note that the transport sector has not received appropriate levels of attention when it comes to skills and training support, especially in comparison to the hospitality, retail, and human services sectors.

As part of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, the Commonwealth government has undertaken to develop a new Transport Sector Skills Strategy, in partnership with industry.

In its pre-Budget submission to the federal government, ALC has emphasised that the development of this Strategy must take particular account of workforce shortages being experienced by freight transport operators, and that the Federal Government must prioritise an increase in training opportunities available to those wishing to enter its workforce.

This includes supporting education and awareness campaigns that combat stereotypes about the nature of the industry, and which prioritise the recruitment of new workforce participants from diverse backgrounds.

Attracting a younger more diverse workforce for this industry clearly demands a different approach to engaging potential recruits.

ALC is committed to playing its part by combatting stereotypes about the industry and highlighting the impact technology and innovation are having and aligning these with the skills and ambitions of new workforce participants.

High school students begin rail qualification

The next generation of rail professions have begun a pilot program during high school to prepare them to work in the rail industry.

Victorian students in years 9 and 10 are undertaking the Certificate II in Heavy and Light Rail Fundamentals (pre-vocational).

The course will count towards a VCE qualification and is delivered at the Rail Academy in Newport. The units of study involve training in railway operations, including customer service, safety awareness, rail infrastructure and rolling stock. It also involves hands-on training at the rail academy in addition to a weekly class at the Newport Community Hub.

This year 21 students are enrolled from schools in Geelong, Berwick, and Ringwood. The curriculum has been developed by Swinburne University of Technology with the leadership of the Level Crossing Removal Project and the Victorian rail industry.

“As we get on and remove 75 level crossings, build the Metro Tunnel and upgrade regional rail – we’re training the next generation of rail workers right here in Victoria,” said Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

Currently, over half of workers in the rail industry are aged over 45, and only 11 per cent are under 30. With the increasing demand for workers with rail know-how and experience, pipelines of experienced staff will be needed, with 3,000 workers needed across Victoria by 2024.

“This Australian first is helping high school students get a taste for the rail industry – which is booming in Victoria thanks to our unprecedented number of projects on the go,” said Horne.

Once the pilot is complete in 2021, insights from the course will be used to further develop training programs.

In 2019, the Inland Rail project announced that it would be providing skills development for undergraduate students along the route of the project.

Making the right connection: Finding outstanding people to fill rail’s skills shortage

The boom in the Australian and New Zealand rail industry is stretching the skills of the industry. An estimated $50 billion worth of investment in Australia alone, across all mainland states and the ACT, is turning capital cities and regional centres into hives of rail activity. In New Zealand, the government announced NZ$1 billion ($962.5 million) in rail investment in the 2019 budget.

This makes for an exciting outlook for the rail industry, but the level of activity is placing significant pressures on the industry. In 2019, 90 per cent of employers reported a skills shortage, according to a report from Australian Industry Standards. Multiple, simultaneous developments compete for the talent and expertise required to complete complex projects on time and to budget.

Added to this is that the boom is not confined to Australia and New Zealand. European countries are also announcing large projects, with Germany alone investing over $100 billon on rail in the next ten years.

In 2018, the Australasian Rail Association forecast that by 2023, there will be a workforce gap of up 70,000 people as construction of new rail projects hits its peak. As a result, the ARA called for a National Rail Industry Skills Development Strategy, which has yet to materialise. This has meant, in the meantime, that rail companies have had to find innovative ways to find talent.

Janette Herdman, founder of specialist rail recruitment agency JHA Global, has seen businesses grapple with the skills challenge.

“In the current market the demand is outstripping the supply. Companies might win a tender and then they need to find more staff quickly.”

JHA Global’s approach is to work hand-in-glove with rail businesses’ HR departments to find people that are the right fit.

“The way we look at it, HR is made up of the keepers of the keys to an organisation. They control culture, manage talent, work to contain costs, keep the company regulated, provide a safe haven for staff and keep an organization growing,” said Herdman.

Janette Herdman ensures JHA Global’s objectives are aligned with the business it is assisting.

“HR is too important to ignore. The talent solution is a partner to the business, not an add-on or a temporary fix. When we go into an organisation, we always make sure our goals are exactly the same, and that we’re aware of the business objectives. JHA Global compliments and builds on the work of HR to create a well-oiled machine that is consistently moving towards growing your business and achieving your goals.”

JHA Global takes a three-pronged approach to addressing the rail skills gap. Starting at the foundation, JHA Global connects businesses with the next generation of talent via its cadet program. As rail competes with other, growing industries for the best graduates and school leavers, securing a pipeline of cadets provides a business – and the wider industry – with a pool of engaged and committed individuals.

“Our clients find the cadet program gives them the strategic advantage to secure great talent and train them to understand their systems – with no down-time to them,” said Herdman.

“We help identify and recruit cadets with drive and ambition for the rail industry and provide mentorship and reviews to help propel them – and your organisation – to success.”

The next prong of JHA Global is its rail recruitment arm. Here, JHA Global combines its industry knowledge with the latest smart systems to match its database of applicants with the jobs in the industry.

“By using smart technology and artificial intelligence we help our recruiters identify and attract high-calibre talent across our extensive talent network,” said Herdman.

Using artificial intelligence, JHA Global can find a match between applicant and job 10 times faster than in traditional processes.

The final prong is JHA Global’s executive search function. A boutique and targeted service, JHA Global goes beyond the established networks and connections to find the unique applicant who will drive a business forward.

Herdman describes this service as targeting people who have a demonstrable track-record of delivering outstanding results in challenging markets.

“Not the kind of people who are likely to respond to an ad placed on an online jobs board.”

While social media tools such as LinkedIn have become ubiquitous in the modern recruitment world, JHA Global’s approach is to go beyond these technologies to draw upon a global network.

“Social media has become the way forward for companies to promote and select people, but if you are not an expert, you will find it difficult to find the needle in the haystack,” said Herdman. “JHA Global finds the needle in the haystack.”

Indeed, while the rail infrastructure pipeline in Australia is large, the local industry is competing in a global market when it comes to finding the right people to complete some of the most challenging projects around the globe. JHA Global recognises this and looks beyond what is immediately apparent.

“My vision is to provide outstanding candidates to companies within rail, speedily and at reduced costs to what they are currently paying,” said Herdman.

“Our point of difference goes beyond technology. The JHA Global team is made up of highly-skilled and experienced professionals worldwide who are motivated to deliver exceptional service and positive outcomes for our clients and candidates.”

Shadow transport minister calls for workforce research body

Federal shadow transport minister, Catherine King, reiterated her party’s promise to create a body to conduct research on the future of the industry workforce, in her address to the Rail, Tram and Bus union on Wednesday.

King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research body called Jobs and Skills Australia, under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia. The intention to create Jobs and Skills Australia was announced last month by Labour party leader, Anthony Albanese.

The body would be would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

The body will undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It will be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system, as well as deliver plans for targets groups such as the regions, workers over-55, and youth.

King said that she believes introducing new technology can create different job opportunities.

“I spoke yesterday with a major freight rail operator who is using real time condition monitoring to better forecast maintenance to reduce breakdowns. While that has replaced the task of physically walking the line inspecting trains in sidings. It has seen new jobs created in big data analytics, as well as increases in the maintenance schedule and maintenance jobs.”

However, transitioning jobs in industries like transport must be planned, she explained.

“People must always be at the heart of our transport system.”