Ship spending to trigger apprentice uptake

18/04/2017 - 13:14

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SPECIAL REPORT: Henderson shipbuilders have plans to put on hundreds of apprentices as billions of dollars in naval investment is expected in the next few years.

David Singleton says Austal is keen to employ more female apprentices. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Henderson-based shipbuilders are expected to draw on a combination of new apprentices and oil and gas sector-trained workers to fill the growing demand for defence work at the precinct.

Among those seeking to be part of the multi-billion dollar projects for the Royal Australian Navy is Forgacs Marine and Defence, which became a subsidiary of Civmec in early 2016.

Last December, Forgacs announced plans for a new facility at Henderson to cater specifically for RAN projects.

Forgacs managing director Michael Deeks said the state's oil and gas workforce would be able to adapt their skills to defence without a need for major retraining.

“I’ve been around the marine and defence industry since I left the navy about 12 years ago,” Mr Deeks said.

“One thing I have noted all the way through is that the skill sets required in the type of work that a company like Civmec has been doing up until now are not a lot different from what is required in the shipbuilding and maintenance sector.

“When I was in the navy, when the boom was charging ahead, one of our biggest challenges was to stop the oil and gas industry poaching our people out of the navy.”

He said there were good people available with the skill sets the company needed, and younger workers were now seeing defence as an alternative industry to get into.

Singapore-listed Civmec employs around 30 apprentices at any given time, Mr Deeks said, although it planned to put on 100 more when the new defence-focused facility was completed in the second half of 2019.

About $80 million will be invested in the new building.

“Our business development planning indicates that the workforce we’ll need will be around 1,000 workers,” Mr Deeks said.

Civmec additionally has achieved accreditation as a registered training organisation.

“We saw a need to make sure people are properly trained and qualified,” Mr Deeks said.

“We want to control the quality and the throughput and that’s been very successful; we won the WA Training Awards employer of the year last year.”

ASX-listed shipbuilder Austal is about a quarter of the way into a plan to put on 100 apprentices this year, according to managing director David Singleton.

It is well above the company’s usual level of around 20 or 30.

The growth has been driven by an expansion of the company’s workbook in recent months, including maintenance work, commercial vessels, and the new Pacific patrol boats.

Mr Singleton said any future work on the offshore patrol vessels, which are to be constructed in Western Australia from 2020, would probably drive another 100 apprenticeships.

He said the company was supportive of training throughout all levels of staff, right up to postgraduate management qualifications for senior managers.

Austal was also keen to secure more women in apprenticeships, with a target of around 20 per cent of the workforce, Mr Singleton said.

That objective was crystallised by the company’s ‘pink boat’ initiative, he said, which targeted having enough women in all areas of the business to be able to theoretically build a boat with a women-only workforce.

In order to generate more applications in engineering and trades from females, Mr Singleton said the company was reaching out to schools, including for summer vacation work programs.

“I’m quite convinced that we will crack it,” he said.

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