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IRC releases 4-year work plan for Bus, Truck & Trailer Manufacturing sector

As manufacturers of heavy transport trailers for 60 years, you could say we’re veterans when it comes to evolution, change and innovation in our industry. We’ve seen and been a part of it all: new and futuristic technologies, new ways of working and new rules and regulations to be at the forefront of.

Now the industry is entering a new stage of automation, increased consumer demands, value on after-care services and sustainable manufacturing.

In response to industry change, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee has established a new model for developing and maintaining training packages. Driving this process is the Industry Reference Committees (IRC). This committee is made up of people with experience, skills and in-depth knowledge of their industry sector, and are responsible for ensuring training packages for those entering or upskilling in the industry meets the needs of employers.

The industry Four Year Work Plan developed between 2011 and 2016 by the Automotive IRC and Auto Skills Australia is available for reading for all interested parties, indicating the expectations for each industry sector for 2016 – 2020.

Relevant to our industry is the Automotive Vehicle Manufacturing (Bus, Truck & Trailer) Sector IRC Four Year Work Plan. Over the next two articles, we’ll be highlighting some of the key challenges and opportunities for the workforce. This article is predominantly for those looking to get in the industry, upskill or refresh their knowledge.

Bus, truck and trailer sector overview

Did you know the Australian Automotive Industry employs over 370,000 people in Australia and contributes $40 billion to our economy each year? Along with the bus, truck and trailer sector, the automotive industry also comprises of the heavy vehicle, mechanical and specialisation, training advisory, sales, parts administration and management, vehicle body, passenger vehicle manufacturing, bicycles, marine and outdoor power and equipment make up the rest of the industry.

In our sector, there are 15 businesses across Australia who are involved in the manufacturing of buses, employing approximately 3,000 people who contribute to the production of 1,400 buses per year.

For light, medium and heavy trucks, there are just three Australian businesses responsible for manufacturing these necessary transporters, yet between them they employ a whopping 2,670 employees and generate $1 billion in revenue per year.

As for vehicle body and trailer manufacturing, there are 928 businesses country-wide that contribute to the production of bodies for large vehicles and trailers for freight including flat-tops, container skels and low loaders. Victoria boasts the largest number of dedicated vehicle body and trailer manufacturing business, clocking 289 businesses as of 2016, followed by Queensland who has 253 businesses registered and New South Wales with 216. Tasmania (9), Northern Territory (7) and the Australian Capital Territory (2) have the least number of vehicle body and trailer manufacturing businesses.

Table 1 looks at the distribution of manufacturing businesses across employment and size ranges.

Table 1

Sub-sector Sole proprietor (no. of employees) 1-19 employees 20-199 employees 200+ employees Total businesses
Bus Manufacturing 0 0 10 5 15
Truck Manufacturing 0 0 0 3 3
Vehicle Body and Trailer Manufacturing 355 468 100 5 928

Peak bodies and regulations in the industry

For each state, the automotive industry can look to their local Motor Trades Association or Automobile Chamber of Commerce. However, the large peak bodies many of us look to for regulations, laws and standards include the Bus Industry Confederation, Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia and the Truck Industry Council.

As for regulations, manufacturers in this industry must comply to the Australian Design Standards, which is part of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act. We got into more depth about the Australian Design Standards and what’s expected for vehicle designers and manufacturers in our piece: The state of Australian vehicle safety.

What are the existing occupations?

The IRC has determined many existing occupations for those looking to get into or move up in the industry. Of course, specific titles and specialisations are dependent on the business itself, so these occupations should only be used as a guide for the general automotive manufacturing industry. They are:

  • Line manager
  • Automotive production manager
  • Automotive production supervisor
  • Lead automotive manufacturing technician
  • Automotive manufacturing technician
  • Vehicle body builder
  • Coach builder technician
  • Sub assembly technician
  • Automotive body builder
  • Automotive manufacturing production worker
  • Component assembler

Training required

The Drake Group are proud to run apprenticeship manufacturing programs to get young workers skilled up in a practical environment, helping them to understand different parts of the manufacturing business, become capable of working with complex machinery and inspired to innovate. The relevant AUM qualification relevant to our sector are the Certificate II in Automotive Manufacturing – Bus, Truck and Trailer and the Certificate III in Automotive Manufacturing Technical Operations – Bus, Truck and Trailer. In this course, some of the things students will learn is how to operate load shifting equipment, prepare, use and operate equipment, tools and machinery and comply with heavy vehicle modification standards.

In our next instalment, we’ll look at the manufacturing sector trends and challenges, sector opportunities and employment and skills outlook to 2020.

Sector trends and challenges

While those who are at the forefront of change shouldn’t notice decreased activity, the IRC has stated that the overall sector will face significant challenges over the next few years due to decreased economic activity, pressures from import replacement and supply uncertainty.

How will economic activity affect the industry?

Growth within the bus, truck and trailer industry is supported by the mining, agricultural, construction, retail and road freight industries. While mining and retail is experiencing downturn, the need is higher for road freight tasks – in fact, it’s expected to double by 2030. We’ve already seen the start of this with truck sales continuing to increase throughout 2018, with back-orders keeping manufacturers busy until mid-year. The expected investment in transport infrastructure will likely see an increased need for new heavy transport trailers and trucks, further boosting employment within this sector to meet demands.

Expected technological changes

Technology has only improved the bus, truck and trailer industry, giving way to the production of lightweight, durable materials which require deeper technical production methods while producing less waste. Smart use of automation will continue to be a growing focus for most businesses, with workers needing a certain level of digital literacy to comprehend automation programs.

Importation of replacement and spare parts

For many years, the trend towards fully built vehicles from China, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Malaysia has been the preferred approach. However, industry experts believe this is unsustainable as import parts are generally not suited for the harsh Australian environment. This will hopefully lead the way for Australian-made trailer, truck and bus products which already enjoy a quality reputation for being long-lasting, durable and purpose-built for transportation in Australia.

Manufacturing activity from 2018 and beyond

Over the next few years, most of Australia’s manufacturing activity will predominately focus on bus, truck and trailers. It’s expected that this transformation of the industry will be complete by 2021, with PACCAR Australia, Volvo Group Australia and Iveco Trucks Australia touted to be the major players in the truck manufacturing game.

Sector opportunities for new and existing workers

Not sure what skills to develop or which growing sectors might benefit from your existing skills? Here is some food for thought. It’s predicted that the demand for light vehicles, due to their environmental friendliness and ease on the road, will be a big growth area.

On the trailer manufacturing side of things, the development of specialised, purpose-built and personalised trailers, such as the tilt slide, will be a large area of growth.

Employment and skills outlook

Luckily, there will be no labour shortages across this industry, with roles for new entrants and existing workers expected to remain stable leading up to 2020. On the other side of the coin, the IRC expects no emerging occupations but does say that the industry is looking for a new kind of skill set.

Influencing employment are the following skills:

  • Exceptional technical skills and knowledge of electronic component sensitivity, medication of frames and chassis, inert gas welding and composite materials
  • Strong foundation skills around literacy, numeracy, employability and digital skills.
  • Adaptable to change and ability to work with new technologies as they arise

For existing workers, the IRC will be pushing for in-house and external training opportunities for those who have progressed through fabrication and wish to develop management skills. They also hope to create workers who have transferable skills, empowering them to work in areas outside of the manufacturing industry. An example of this is the industry’s desire to encourage manufacturing workers to side-step into the truck driving business to relieve the shortage of professional truck driver in Australia. You can read more about this impending issue in our article: Driver availability is impacting the transport industry and Australian society.

The Drake Group encompasses Australian heavy trailer manufacturers Drake Trailers and O’Phee Trailers, as well as diecast model maker Drake Collectibles. Contact us today to learn more about our trailers or apprenticeship programs.

Automotive Vehicle Manufacturing (Bus, Truck & Trailer) Sector IRC Four Year Work Plan

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