Industry leader warns against skills shortage in downturn

Manufacturing industry leader Bill Stoddart has warned that reduced private sector investment in skills and training during the economic downturn could exacerbate the current skills shortage.

Stoddart is managing director of a leading Australian metal manufacturing company Stoddart Manufacturing, chairs the National Industry Skills Committee and is Deputy Chair of the SkillsTech Australia Council.

He says the reasons for investing in skills and training have increased, not decreased because of the tough economic conditions.

The economic downturn has hit the Australian manufacturing industry hard, with the latest Performance of Manufacturing Index falling for the past six months. The Australian Industry Group says new orders have slumped to the lowest level on record.

Bill Stoddart says dramatically reducing skills and training in the manufacturing sector during the downturn would be a mistake.
“Stoddart’s has always invested in skills since my father Tom Stoddart started the company in Brisbane in 1959. We are still here after 50 years and following a period of intensive growth, we supply products in Australia and overseas.

“My father believed in developing the workforce, training apprentices and providing opportunities for tradespeople to go further. I just keep doing what Dad did.

“During the economic downturn a company has to cut its cloth according to its budget but it would be foolish to shut down training and stop taking on apprentices.

“Stoddart usually employs 25 apprentices a year. We debated the size of the intake and next year we are taking on 20 apprentices so we are moderating but not stopping.

“To maintain a competitive advantage business needs a skilled workforce.

“But it’s not just about being competitive. By investing in skills you retain your workforce. Investment in training produces a highly skilled and motivated workforce of staff who want a meaningful career.”

Competitive manufacturing key:

Bill Stoddart last month presented twenty Stoddart Manufacturing employees with Certificates in Competitive Manufacturing in Brisbane. The training was delivered by SkillsTech Australia, the lead TAFE institute in trade and technical training.

He said the investment in the Competitive Manufacturing Initiative (CMI) training led to significant, measurable improvements to Stoddart’s business operations, including substantial cost savings.

Stoddart, who awarded $250 cash bonuses to Stoddart staff who attended every CMI session, says some of them went from reluctant to enthusiastic participation. ‘In the end they were enthusiastic and my goal is to lead by example and implement CMI right through the whole organisation.

“The survival of the manufacturing industry in Australia means embracing the basic theory of CMI – also known as ‘lean manufacturing’. It boils down to working smarter.”

The CMI program was delivered at Stoddarts by highly skilled consultants who coached and mentored the participants through projects designed to make sustained business improvements.