ACT acknowledges the essential work of public transport staff

As the ACT starts to ease restrictions put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister for Chris Steel is calling on Canberrans to thank rail staff and other public transport workers.

“This is group of people who have been quietly and proudly delivering the important services that our community has relied on during the pandemic, and they deserve our thanks,” said Steel.

“While there’s been less people using public transport, each journey has been important to keep our society functioning and Canberrans moving.”

During the pandemic and associated lockdowns, Transport Canberra ran a full timetable across light rail services as well as bus services in the ACT. With work from home directives and restrictions on the use of public transport only for essential travel, patronage figures have decreased by 85 per cent. In the first week of term two 2020, April 28 to May 1, Transport Canberra recorded a daily average of 8,873 journeys. In the comparable period in 2019, 66,766 journeys were recorded. The busiest day since the end of March was Monday, April 28, with 9,793 journeys.

In April, Transport Canberra hired extra cleaners to sanitise buses, light rail vehicles, and public transport stops. Steel said the government has been working with unions to ensure workplaces are safe.

“The ACT Government has been working closely with union representatives from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) during this time to ensure the wellbeing of workers is at the forefront of Transport Canberra’s response to COVID-19,” said Steel.

“We’re looking at how social distancing and other measures can be promoted on public transport as more people start travelling, but we are still asking Canberrans to reconsider the need to travel at this time.”

Union delegates at the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said the government had been listening to workers’ concerns.

“Transport Canberra has been receptive to the union’s concerns, establishing weekly meetings and making changes in accordance with workers’ feedback. This has been integral to ensuring both worker and commuter safety.”

While some authorities have been concerned that following the lifting of restrictions public transport patronage would drop as people commute via car, Steel said that maintaining a full timetable throughout the crisis will help ensure people return to public transport.

“Canberrans have been able to rely on public transport during the crisis, because we’ve been delivering the same services week in week out on buses and light rail,” said Steel.

“We are in a much better position than many other cities having delivered constant reliable services throughout the pandemic to support more people back on to public transport once restrictions are eased at an appropriate time.”

1,800-strong workforce on site for CRR construction

A workforce of 1,800 people has been continuing to progress the Cross River Rail project, even as social distancing measures have been in place to limit the spread or outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).

A pedestrian bridge at the Roma Street site has been removed, and demolition is continuing of the former Hotel Jen building.

Demolition of two blocks in the Brisbane CBD has also been finished. The blocks will allow for the construction of a new station at Albert Street. There, piling works and the construction of an acoustic shed are underway as work begins on the underground station box.

Piling works for the dive site at Woolloongabba for the tunnel boring machines are also completed. Excavation of the launch area will now get underway.

Work has also started on the northern tunnel portal, between Roma Street and Exhibition stations.

Piling at Boggo Road is also making strides, with 100 out of the 150 piles installed for the station box.

According to a statement from Cross River Rail the continuation of work during the COVID-19 restrictions has had a wider effect on the Queensland economy, with manufacturers and construction supply companies benefiting from works not being halted. Subcontractors carrying out works on each of the sites have also directly benefited.

Safety precautions and social distancing measures have been in place at all sites, with extra hygiene protocols adhered to.

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.

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.”