In the room: Tim Ayres’ heavy industry skills roundtable

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Seventeen representatives from Australia’s heavy industries gathered in Canberra on Tuesday to discuss jobs and skills issues ahead of next week’s national summit. Those in the room reported a constructive discussion with assistant minister for manufacturing and trade Tim Ayres.

Over nearly two hours, leaders from industrial giants like Rio Tinto, Lendlease, and Incitec Pivot; Defence manufacturers Boeing, Thales and Raytheon; and heavy industry union representatives exchanged ideas and challenges.

The key themes to emerge from the discussion were centred on skills and training, energy costs, supply chain problems and the fractured nature of the government’s industry policy and programs, with each area raised as a significant roadblock for the sector.

Assistant minister for manufacturing and trade Tim Ayres

The discussion was well received by Senator Ayres, who told representatives the new government will be more receptive to industry input on its policies and programs.

He will take Tuesday’s feedback to next week’s national Jobs and Skills Summit, an event expected to trigger significant labour market reforms by the new government.

“It was great to see so many organisations in both heavy industry and trade willing to come to the table to talk about how the national skills shortages are impacting them on the ground,” Mr Ayres told

“Solving these issues won’t be easy, but this is a Government that’s ready to do the hard work together with industry and unions. That’s why next week’s Jobs and Skills Summit is so important in shaping Australia’s future labour market.”

It’s understood industry and unions had shared frustrations about training and the tertiary education system, with the large companies saying they are struggling to find the engineers they need for increasingly advanced manufacturing processes.

Employees meanwhile are frustrated by the long times required to retrain and the lack of recognition of existing credentials across Australian states and territories. An increase in skilled migration was raised as a short term solution for heavy industries.

Energy costs, including the high price of gas heavy industries rely on as a feedstock, was again raised as a concern, as was supply chain constraints, including port productivity.

The stakeholders acknowledged the challenge is significant for Australian heavy industries but pointed to the collection of Nordic countries a s a potential model to emulate, with a similar population size and resource access.

Eminent industry policy and manufacturing expert UTS Professor Roy Green helped facilitate the heavy industry roundtable.

“The minister took away some key concerns and issues affecting our current manufacturing performance as well as where the future opportunities might lie around a more coordinated approach to the way in which we both identify and capitalise on Australia’s competitive advantages,” Professor Green told

Australian heavy industry has genuine areas of advantage through knowledge and ingenuity, Professor Green said, but faces serious constraints like a lack of economic complexity and low manufacturing self-sufficiency.

“Many areas of our economy are lagging the rest of the world,” he told

“But the government’s commitment to research and development and to the industries and technologies of the future is welcome. This is where, in most advanced countries, government can play a major role in identifying those areas of current and potential advantage and through its programs underpin the growth of manufacturing ecosystems around those advantages.”

Organisation Representative
 UTS Professor Roy Green
CEA Technologies Mark Foster
Raytheon Ohad Katz
Boeing Australia Matthew McSweeney
BAE Systems Danielle Mesa
Thales Group Chris Jenkins
Thales Group Gary Dawson
Alstom Todd Garvey
Rio Tinto Brian Pontifex
Rio Tinto Paul Holland
Brickworks Wally Kluktewicz
Incitec Pivot Stephenie De Nichilo
CSR Ryan Cronin
Lendlease Chris Sofatzis
Australian Owned Contractors Brent Crockford
Australian Steel Institute Mark Cain
AMWU Andrew Dettmer
AWU Taylor Rundell

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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