Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Automotive Trades Workforce

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (15:21): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking questions of the Attorney-General, who represents the Minister for Education, Training and Skills in the other place, specifically on motor trades recruitment.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD: I have been contacted by the owner of a small crash repair business in South Australia—and I'm aware of at least one other—who is very much struggling to find panelbeaters to employ in their business, and as a result of that the business is suffering quite substantially. The business owner has apparently exhausted every avenue of trying to attract employees from South Australia and interstate and has explored obtaining workers through the immigration system, even. However, the cost of this avenue has proven to be too high, with no guarantee of success, and of course there are other complexities around that as well.

In addition to this, the CEO of the Motor Trade Association has stated:

We're currently short 33,000 skilled professionals across the automotive trades—the vast majority of those are in the mechanical and collision repair sectors.

My questions to the minister—and I appreciate fully that this is a matter that he will refer, but perhaps if he can make some general comments and refer it to his colleague—are:

1. What would be the state government's response to this constituent and the countless number of business owners who find themselves in this exact situation across this sector and others?

2. Are the National Centre for Vocational Education Research figures from last year and this year showing an increase or decrease of people in training in these fields?

3. What specific measures are being put in place by the state government to encourage more training and apprenticeships, particularly in the automotive collision repair sector?

4. What measures has the government undertaken to attract more workers to this sector in particular, whether from South Australia, interstate or overseas?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:22): I thank the honourable member for his question and the honourable member's regular inquiring of making sure industry in South Australia can prosper to its fullest.

Certainly, many areas of the automotive trades are suffering because of a general skills shortage and a tight labour market right across Australia at the moment. This isn't something new for the automotive trades. I know from my previous incarnation as a minister, when the Hon. Jay Weatherill was Premier and when I held the portfolios of Minister for Manufacturing and also Minister for Automotive Transformation as we were seeing the closure of the Holden production plant at Elizabeth, we put a whole lot of programs in place to allow people who were involved in the OEMs, the original automotive manufacturers such as Holden but also the tier 1 and tier 2 manufacturers that supplied to Holden, to retrain.

Even then, back in around 2015, 2016, not just the Motor Trade Association but individual proprietors of companies were talking about a shortage. Some of the things they talked about were the fact that there were particularly family-owned automotive repair places, panelbeating included, that had been owned by the family for one or two generations, and it was difficult looking for that next transition when people exited the industry. That also applies, obviously, to looking for new people to enter the industry.

It is something that I know has been an issue for some time but has been exacerbated, as we see an exceptionally tight labour market right across Australia in a whole range of areas. I know it is something that my colleague the Minister for Skills, the Hon. Blair Boyer, the member for Wright, has had numerous discussions with the Motor Trade Association in particular about.

I know this because I have talked to the Hon. Blair Boyer about this, but also because the Motor Trade Association has been one of the many industry groups that has come and presented at cabinet. Something we regularly do is have industry groups at the start of cabinet meetings presenting some of the issues faced by those industries.

About the middle of last year, if I remember correctly, the Motor Trade Association presented at the start of a cabinet meeting, and that skills shortage certainly was an issue that was raised. All cabinet ministers from that meeting had the benefit of being appraised of some of the problems that are being faced. As I have said, I know the minister, the Hon. Blair Boyer, has had numerous discussions.

I am happy to refer the question to the Hon. Blair Boyer to add more of what the government is doing, but I know one particular thing—it was either earlier this week or last week—was announced and that is in relation to the Tonsley Technical College, where it was announced that automotive would be a specific stream at that college. As I understand it, the MTA came on board as an official partner with the Tonsley Technical College, with the automotive stream as something very concrete that the government is looking at doing to address the concerns that the honourable member has raised.

I am happy to refer the question to the Hon. Blair Boyer, the Minister for Skills, to bring back a more complete answer, because I know it is an area that he has been closely in contact with the MTA and the industry about, looking to see what more as a government we can do to encourage the skills and labour shortages that are being faced.