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Victoria throws support at caravan-makers

Caravan industry support in VIC to create 150 new jobs but NSW still struggling

9 Nov 2021

WITH Victoria’s travel restrictions finally easing, the Andrews government has announced its support for the state’s caravan manufacturing industry as part of a $250 million support package it says will create 10,000 “steady and secure jobs” for workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


But New South Wales manufacturers say a similar package would assist caravan and RV producers in that state to meet what they say is “record demand” that they are struggling to meet.


Citing “huge demand for locally-built caravans”, Victorian minister for employment Jaala Pulford said that as people spend more time touring the country, the need for specialist on-the-job training within the industry had become increasingly apparent.


She said the “earn and learn” initiative would support skill development in areas including administration, assembly, logistics, sales, service, repair, and warehousing.


“The caravan industry is booming and this (initiative) provides a great opportunity for Victorians to build a career in an industry that is really going places,” said Ms Pulford.


“Being able to earn a wage while learning new skills and building knowledge on the job is a winning combination.”


The minister said those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, the long-term unemployed, and young people under 25 years of age will be prioritised by the scheme that has engaged 10 manufacturers, primarily across Melbourne’s northern suburbs, who are currently facing workforce shortages. 


More than 20,000 caravans are built in Melbourne’s north each year, accounting for 90 per cent of Australia’s production total. Minister Pulford said the sector is worth $2.3 billion to the Victorian economy annually, with approximately 7400 caravan industry workers drawing $600 million in wages per annum.


“People are travelling again and want more of our industry’s products and this program comes at a time when our employer members need it the most,” said Caravan Industry Victoria CEO Rob Lucas.


Australian caravan production is at a 30-year high as COVID-19 travel restrictions and the closure of international borders prompts Australian families to holiday domestically. 


Avida RV dealer development and sales and marketing manager Billy Falconer told GoAuto that assistance of the nature offered to Victorian manufacturers would be greatly appreciated in New South Wales.


“Our market saw huge demands following the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns,” said Mr Falconer.


“Our order bank doubled, almost tripled, and while we’re very fortunate to have that sort of demand, we are struggling to get the people we need to manufacture units to fill those orders.” 


Caravan Industry Association of Australia government relations executive Hugh Fitzpatrick said sales were up more than 15 per cent on an “ordinary” year, with local manufacturers benefiting greatly from the surge in demand.


Mr Falconer told GoAuto his company alone “could hire 25 people tomorrow if we could get them”.


“That’s the real challenge; the flexibility that’s offered to potential employees elsewhere has caught us by surprise a little bit, and we’re rapidly working to change the way we do business to draw some of those people to the industry,” he said.


“Simply put, the market moved a lot quicker than we can, and getting the message out there that we’re in need of staff is something we’re working very hard to address. I think a lot of people are fighting to get staff at the moment, much more than they have before the COVID-19 pandemic.”


Mr Fitzpatrick said the caravan industry in Australia contributes more than $23.1 billion annually to the local economy with more than 6000 businesses and 60,000 staff across the country contributing to manufacturing, repair, sales, and servicing of the more than 750,000 registered caravans and recreational vehicles here. 


According to Mr Falconer, the career paths offered in the caravan and RV industry can provide prospective employees with an opportunity not readily available in other parts of the manufacturing sector.


He explained that the range of skills required to construct vehicles, and to design and engineer new models, was ever-changing as younger and more tech-savvy buyers flock to the market.


“The pathways within this industry are tremendous and can provide a lot of opportunity that isn’t really available anywhere else,” said Mr Falconer.


“Whether that’s learning a trade, working in logistics, administration, design, or warehousing, there really are a lot of skills to be learnt here – it’s any industry where you really can grow your career.


“I firmly believe that this isn’t a short-lived spike in demand, either. Before the COVID-19 pandemic we would build 500 or 600 units each year, now we have orders for more than 1000.


“There’s a backlog forming that is five months longer than usual because we just can’t build vehicles fast enough, and the positive side of that is that many of the customers buying from us are returning for the second or third time as they update to bigger, more sophisticated vehicles.


“There are also a lot of younger people entering the market, which is simply fantastic to see. It’s terrific that people are getting out and seeing Australia.”


Almost 40,000 new caravan registrations were made across the 2020-21 financial year and the Caravan Industry Association of Australia predicts that more than 25,000 locally built caravans will join the fleet by year’s end.


“With the kind of customer we’re starting to see coming through the dealership door I predict the market will continue to expand over the next 18-36 months, possibly to as high as fifty or even sixty thousand unit sales nationally per annum,” said Mr Falconer.

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