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Car industry ‘needs’ foreign workers

Shortage: Australia may be referred to as the land of plenty but that does not apply to skilled motor mechanics.

Australian Motor Industry Federation hits out at proposed cap on 457 visas

General News logo20 Mar 2013

THE furore over rorting the temporary skilled work visa scheme could worsen the shortage of trained mechanics in this country, the Australian Motor Industry Federation (AMIF) has warned.

AMIF chief executive Richard Dudley said proposed caps on the number of 457 visas issued could result in “Australia’s reliance on road transport grind(ing) to a halt in regional and rural areas”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has described the 457 scheme as “riddled with rorts”, leading government, politicians and other commentators to call for a cap on the visas and to put Australians at the front of the jobs queue.

However the AMIF says this is “a gross distortion of the facts and an emotive response to a valuable source of expertise”.

The AMIF points to a survey by Auto Skills Australia that revealed a current shortage of 19,000 skilled mechanics.

Mr Dudley said a lack of staff was cited as a reason behind the closure of several automotive businesses, and that according to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, only half of all advertised car-related positions were filled.

In an interview with GoAuto, Mr Dudley suggested the statistics only scratched the surface, as many jobs in the industry were never formally advertised, with employers relying on word of mouth.

He said some positions only attracted one candidate, limiting choice and potentially forcing employers to take on staff unsuited to the company culture.

“If we could find 19,000 skilled mechanics in the Australian-based workforce, we would employ them, but they simply do not exist,” Mr Dudley said.

80 center imageLeft: AMIF chief executive Richard Dudley

“Rather than continue to generate some sort of employment class war and social concern, government should be working with all parts of industry together to better plan for a diminishing labour pool, impacts of globalisation and the needs of all Australians to access all the services they need.”

Data from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship shows that 457 applications lodged by the mining industry dropped 15.2 per cent last year.

Meanwhile applications from industries reeling from Aussies tightening their purse strings, hospitality and retail trade, aroused suspicion by respectively leaping 98.3 per cent and 81.6 per cent in the same timeframe.

A quick scan of online job advertisements revealed several mechanic positions in Australia offering 457 visa sponsorship, with many aimed directly at attracting workers from the Philippines.

Mr Dudley told GoAuto some AMIF members had recently been on state government-organised visits to Britain, Ireland and continental Europe as well as the Philippines on trade missions that doubled as recruitment exercises.

He did not have data on whether the Philippines is the primary source of skilled mechanics recruited to Australia, but agreed the nation was “certainly one of those areas where skills are being sought”.

Mr Dudley said the mining industry “vacuumed local communities across the nation of people including mechanics, other motor trades professionals and other skilled workers”, rather than making heavy use of the 457 scheme.

“This combined with a diminishing labour pool mean 457 visas are essential to maintain the expertise needed to provide services,” he said.

“In Emerald, Queensland, the local new hospital could not source nurses because they had been employed by the mining industry to drive trucks.

“In the same regional centre a local vehicle retailer is flying in mechanics from Brisbane on rotation and employing others under 457 visas to replace the mechanics, body repairers and others who all went to the mining industry.”

Although he used Queensland as an example, Mr Dudley said the effect of the skills shortage was being felt uniformly across Australia.

“What we are finding is that we are having to use one of the few options available to us and that includes 457 visas to back-fill what would normally be community positions and be filled by Australians, but they have been attracted to other jobs.”

He said the AMIF was investing millions of dollars – helped by government grants – in attracting young people into apprenticeships in order to secure the industry’s future.

“But that does not address the skills shortages that we have now,” he said.

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