Despite car manufacturing moving overseas, Australia’s automotive industry isn’t dead yet. The Federal Government announced it will invest $5 million in upskilling engineering graduates to focus on the future of transport.
Last week the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews launched the Automotive Engineering Graduate Program, designed to ensure Australia’s automotive sector has a steady stream of talent.
“As an engineer myself, I am very pleased to announce the opening of a program that seeks out some of our best and brightest graduate engineers to pursue research projects with automotive businesses,” Andrews said.
Having a pipeline of trained automotive engineers gives the country a competitive advantage, she said, and could help maintain an edge in the “rapidly changing space of vehicle design”.
“Engineers, designers and technicians have a key role to play in the transformation of Australian automotive manufacturing to higher value-added products and services,” Andrews said.
This might include electric vehicle design, autonomous driving systems, low emissions technology and new materials.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) CEO Tony Weber said it’s important for Australia to maintain a domestic skills base in this industry.
“Advanced skills are crucial to future needs across Australia’s automotive sector, which will help to ensure the safety and security of Australian consumers as they purchase and maintain new vehicle technology,” he said.
“It is important that adequate skills and training are deployed and maintained across Australia’s automotive industry.”
The program is part of the $100 million Advanced Manufacturing Fund announced as part of the 2017-18 budget. To participate, graduate students and universities must submit a research proposal, and projects need to be completed by the end of June 2021. Grants range between $200,000 and $1 million, and are designed to encourage collaboration between academia and industry. Applications close 7 December 2018.
Although manufacturing has moved offshore, Australia maintains a respectable automotive industry. Companies including Ford, Toyota and Holden still rely on domestic engineering teams to help fill important research and development, design and technical roles.
In 2016 Ford expanded its engineering design and technician workforce to 1750, while Holden recently announced it would hire as many as 500 Australian engineers to build its car fleet of the future.
According to David Chuter, CEO and managing director of the Innovation Manufacturing CRC, this reinvestment in the automotive industry is a big “yes vote” for the country’s capability.
“While these future vehicles won’t be made in Australia, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a significant amount of value to add to the car industry, globally speaking,” he said.
Holden is putting money into automotive engineering education as well. The company has partnered with RMIT University and Silicon Valley-based education provider Udacity to offer Australia’s first online course on building self-driving cars.
“On the path towards a driverless future – with safer roads and fewer crashes – we see education as critical to building the technical know-how and developing the soft skills beyond automotive engineering experience that will drive us to the forefront of the industry,” said Brett Vivian, GM Holden engineering executive director.
The course came about in response to an Australian Industry Group study that found 75 per cent of employers in Australia are unable to find local talent to fill job vacancies in automation, big data and artificial intelligence.