Australia, C&L, Cranes & Lifting, Industry News, News, Research & Analysis

The training wheels are off as infrastructure booms

Thomas Smith

The outlook for the remainder of 2018 in the crane industry is certainly promising across most states. Crane hirers are experiencing demand for services at levels not consistently seen for almost a decade with engineering construction, particularly government-funded infrastructure on the east coast, generating  immediate activity along with confidence to upgrade and expand crane fleets.

The volume of construction projects is heavily skewed toward the east coast, with Civil Construction far greater than any other sector. For the past three years, New South Wales had the greatest volume of infrastructure work approved or in progress. This has now been overshadowed in Victoria as both state and federal funding have placed the state on an infrastructure program which has not been seen for generations.

Interestingly, the chart also shows the level at which mining construction programs have declined relative to all other sectors. 

Only as recently as two years ago, manufacturers and machinery traders all had rough terrain cranes left in their sales lots, unable to find buyers as demand on projects waned. Fast forward to today, and this machinery is moving again, and in volume.  All major manufacturers are importing stock cranes, particularly all-terrains, confident in the fact they will either sell in-transit or soon after landing. Further, the volume of inquiries for telescopic crawler cranes is at a level unseen as this type of machine starts to consolidate popularity among tier one contractors.

For all stakeholders, greater demand generates greater reward.  But this most certainly doesn’t come without challenges. We are now experiencing skills shortages as major projects quickly absorb quality machinery operators. And it’s not just machinery operators. Finding skilled maintenance technicians experienced in heavy diesel or electric over hydraulic technology is also extremely difficult. The traditional fear through trade unions of casualisation of the workforce is regulating itself away as industry competes for labour and offers permanent employment or fixed term contracts in an attempt to retain their skills.

CICA members have for many years expressed concerns of pending skills shortages in our industry. Like most industries, the workforce is aging, and the agreed consensus is that our most experienced personnel will exit the industry rapidly as they reach the end of their tenure.

This shortage doesn’t arise, however, due to a lack of enthusiastic youth with ambition to build a career in our now burgeoning industry. Our problem, which is a nationwide problem, is the lack of a structured traineeship which builds skills through a combination of peer-to-peer learning and theory. As it currently stands, the mobile crane sector has only 14 trainees nationwide, all enrolled in New South Wales. All other states have been unable to gain any forward momentum due to a raft of issues including uptake, funding and compliance with enterprise agreements. For too many years, the High Risk Licensing system, which can deliver the ‘two-week ticket”, has filled the industry with new workers without adequate skills to match their license. It is absolutely essential for sustainable skill development within our industry that we can facilitate a traineeship program which overshadows the High Risk License system. CICA recognises this and continues to work with all state branches and local stakeholders to establish consistent uptake and funding of traineeship programs nationwide.

To compensate for the inadequacies of the High Risk License system, industry has demanded a Verification of Competency (VOC) process to prove operator skill matches the license they hold. This is costly to industry both through the expense of third party engagement and lost time. CICA is continuing to pledge ongoing support for members in the areas of skills and competency not only through supporting traineeships, but through the recently launched CrewSafe Program. Throughout this year, CICA is conducting state by state roadshows to demonstrate the CrewSafe program.  This program is designed to create a web-based VOC which tests and confirms operator competency on individual machinery types. By doing so, industry stakeholders can view the skill of an operator through a web interface prior to them either being employed or arriving on site to perform high risk tasks. Through the use of technology, it is our intention at CICA to build this program into a viable VOC database. This provides a powerful tool to aid our membership in both vetting new employees and providing evidence of competency to their existing and prospective clientele. 

CICA continues to pursue its vision for “A Safe and Profitable Industry” across many fronts.  Our dedicated staff and volunteers have established a solid footprint for CICA at the highest levels of government as we continue to lobby for better outcomes for our industry. On behalf of the board, I’d like to extend our thank you to all paid and volunteer staff for their ongoing dedication and support. 

To finish, I’d like to remind you all of our annual CICA conference, this year to be held in Melbourne from October 17 to 19 at the newly developed Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre. Be sure to save the date for this magnificent event which will showcase one of Victoria’s newly completed infrastructure upgrades and offer comprehensive and interactive industry forums and display booths.

I look forward to seeing you all throughout the year and at the conference.

Thomas Smith

CICA Vice President

Managing Director, McKay United Pty Ltd

0439 130 567

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