Mark Brennan and Jeff Bothe are coordinating Bendigo’s push for more welders.

BENDIGO’S manufacturing industry must convince parents and teachers welding is a trade worth pursuing to address a critical shortage in the skill threatening to grind local production to a halt.

“A lot of our community’s teachers and parents do not think too highly of the welding profession,” Jeff Bothe said.

Mr Bothe is working with the Bendigo Manufacturing Group to try and find hundreds of welders the industry forecasts it will need in the next couple of years.

“Simply doing nothing at this stage to address this issue is not a option,” Thales Australia operations manager Murray Brown told a packed meeting of Bendigo businesspeople on Tuesday night.

The chief executive of representative body Weld Australia added that 90 per cent of applicants for welding jobs were failing basic pre-employment competency tests forcing it to write and supply standardised training programs and facilities.

Geoff Crittenden said Bendigo had applied to be the location of specialised training centre which were fully funded by the Victorian government.

“This is an issue nationally,” he said, adding that Bendigo’s method of finding a solution made the city stand out.

BMG is leading the rescue mission, starting by conducting research leading to forecast demand for welders in Bendigo.

Fifteen local respondents predicted they would be advertising to find 130 additional welders in the coming year, and another 113 the year after.

The respondents accounted for less than 20 per cent of businesses which employ welders.

Outlining what must be done, Bendigo TAFE Skills and Jobs Centre manager Paul Stagg told employers they needed to “change the mindset of influencers” including school career advisors by reassuring them the job opportunities were real.

The industry outlines various reasons for the shortage but among them is the perceived trend among secondary schools to give career advice that values university degrees higher than vocational training.

The Bendigo Weekly reported a year ago that local apprenticeship providers found not all local high schools promoted vocational training as a career path despite the training gaining entry to nine of the top 10 fastest growing occupation fields in Australia.

That experience was supported by conclusions drawn by research on behalf of Skilling Australia Foundation that “compared with university, VET is often considered the poor second cousin, seemingly receiving less positive attention in the media, among career counsellors and significantly, with parents”.

Two Bendigo senior secondary schools said their career programs included vocational training options.

A Girton Grammar School spokesperson said advice was founded on strengths identified through testing, relevant skills and realistic personal preferences.

“If all of these things aligned with a future in the welding profession then that is where the student would be directed and supported,” a Girton spokesperson said.

A Bendigo Senior Secondary College spokesperson said the school’s students had access to fantastic work placement schemes.

“Our students are getting great pathways advice around trades including welding,” the spokesperson said.

In the meantime, BMG chairman Mark Brennan said welders were being asked to come to Bendigo to fill the immediate shortfall.

“Over the last significant period of time, things like apprenticeships haven’t been pushed as hard as they could be, TAFE have tried to fill a gap and we have recognised there is a gap and we are trying to support with funding and a plan to try and attract people here to Bendigo to

fill that,” Mr Brennan said.

– Sharon Kemp