A new report shows that Australia's manufacturing workers, recognising their jobs are under threat, are seeking specialised training to upskill.

The report, from PwC Australia, Swinburne University of Technology, Siemens and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, also shows that Australia’s manufacturing industry is facing an image crisis. Two-thirds of the workers who responded to a survey for the report said they would not recommend the manufacturing industry as a career path for young people, which is in line with perceptions of the industry in the US and the UK.

The report calls for the Commonwealth Government to facilitate the development and release of a manufacturing Industry 4.0 strategy and makes recommendations on ways in which manufacturing businesses must adapt and evolve.

“The consequences of the fourth industrial revolution are profound. Industry 4.0 is expected to add $21 trillion to global GDP by 2030 and there will be a significant net increase in jobs created,” says Jeff Connolly, Chairman and CEO of Siemens in the Australia-Pacific region. “However, Australia needs to act quickly to capture its share of the potential and avoid being left behind.

“The transformation is about new globally shared standards, innovative application of research, new business models and rethinking the role of education for job-ready outcomes. Importantly, it’s also about ensuring a cyber secure environment. Provided there is a complementary set of actions put in place by government, researchers, education, industry and organised labour, there is little to be feared and much to be gained.”

The workers who responded to the survey agreed that traditional job roles are changing and specialised training is needed to upskill employees. Nevertheless, more than a third indicated they do not have a strong understanding of Industry 4.0, which encompasses end-to-end digitisation and data integration of the value chain.

“There’s an urgent need for investment in cross-sector collaboration to respond to employee needs for development of essential skills required by the Industry 4.0 economy,” says Professor Aleksandar Subic, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development) at Swinburne University of Technology. “It must link the manufacturing industry with the education sector to facilitate collaboration and seamless learner pathways across the entire continuum of education and training, from VET across higher education and research. This will help bridge the skills gap that continues to grow between the fast-paced and rapidly digitising manufacturing industry and the workforce that underpins it.”

Sara Caplan, PwC’s National Skills Lead, says: “The research really underlines the fact that the reskilling and upskilling agenda in Australia is becoming more important and demands an urgent response. Businesses need to be thinking about how they will tackle this with their workforce. Education and training providers also need to rise to this challenge by working with industry to deliver training that fills the gaps Industry 4.0 is creating.”

Andrew Dettmer, the AMWU’s National President, adds: “There’s so much potential for Australian manufacturing, but we’re at a critical juncture for the sector’s success into the future. This report provides a great road map for all stakeholders to work together to ensure Australian manufacturing workers are getting the right support to reskill or upskill to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities in the 4.0 environment.”

The report presents seven recommendations to improve policies, programs and initiatives targeted at future-proofing Australia’s manufacturing industry:
1. Facilitate the development and release of a national manufacturing Industry 4.0 strategy; 

2. Develop a new online portal that provides consolidated and easy to access information on government incentives and programs for manufacturing businesses; 

3. Establish hubs for Industry 4.0 commercial manufacturing activity focused on priority industry sectors; 

4. Continue to remove barriers between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education in Australia’s tertiary education system to facilitate collaboration opportunities and seamless learner pathways; 

5. Establish a workforce transformation leadership program; 

6. Create funding and accreditation models to support lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling 
throughout the work lifecycle; and 

7. Enhance the integration of manufacturing business supply chains through strategic 

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