Industry back on track as employment figures rise



Bill Shorten … ‘resilience’

The death of manufacturing in Australia has been vastly exaggerated, according to latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Surprisingly, the number of Australians employed in the manufacturing industry has increased in the past year. This is despite recent company downsizing and closures as well as steel and auto industry retrenchments.

The strongest growth has been in Victoria, where 10,000 full-time manufacturing jobs were created in the past year.

There are now 308,200 Victorians in manufacturing jobs compared with 295,100 at the same time last year. Full-time jobs have gone from 248,000 to 258,000.

In total, about 962,000 people were counted by the ABS as working in manufacturing in Australia – up 1 per cent over the previous quarter.

This means manufacturing now accounts for just over 8 per cent of the workforce.

The latest figures have defied expert predictions that the industry would continue to shed jobs over the next five years.

Manufacturing lost 106,775 jobs in the last four years (2007-08 to 2011-2012) and the Commonwealth projects another 85,600 jobs may be lost in the next five years.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says the recent jump in manufacturing jobs, although small, signals a resilience in the sector.

“Australia is still doing better in the global rankings than most other countries around the world,” he said in reference to the latest ABS employment figures.

Mr Shorten said Australia remains “a nation that makes things” including high-tech and manufacturing and textiles and clothing.

Manufacturing is an integral part of the Australian economy. Last year, manufacturing contributed about $106 billion to the economy. 

Manufacturing also accounts for more than 25 per cent of all business expenditure in R&D, with over $4 billion invested in research and development.

The federal government has acknowledged the importance of the manufacturing sector to Australia’s economy.

Its future remains important for at least two reasons: first, manufacturing drives innovation and technological change – key elements of our productivity performance – and second it contributes to our external trade balance.

Without a solid manufacturing base, Australia faces the prospect of losing scientific, engineering and computing expertise that has taken generations to nurture in research and production.

The Prime Minister’s Manufacturing Taskforce Report noted: “A dynamic and thriving Australian manufacturing sector is critical to the long-term health of the economy and the nation.

“Australia needs to prepare and position for a new Asia, one that is generating both new knowledge and new demands at a rapid pace.

“All stakeholders need to lift our sights, expectations and aspirations – both for how the world sees Australia and for how we see ourselves.”

The report also noted: “Australia’s manufacturing businesses now deliver solutions, not just products. It is at the frontline of efforts to develop new skills and apply new technologies that the wider economy would not have without it.”

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