Digital demand: Skilling Australia’s manufacturing workforce

The growth of automation and digital technologies has significantly transformed the manufacturing sector in Australia, and Industry 4.0 is continuing to drive an increased demand for crucial digital skills. As Australian Federal and State Governments continue to push for growth and innovation in the sector, many companies are turning to digital skills to meet the demands of the modern market and maintain their competitiveness.

The demand for digital skills such as data analytics, robotic engineering, and automation specialists is only expected to grow in the coming years, and many manufacturing businesses are investing in reskilling and upskilling their existing workforce - while also recruiting new talent with relevant digital skills - to meet demand.

State Government initiatives and incentives available to manufacturers

One initiative to help manufacturing businesses adapt to the digital operating environment through reskilling comes from the Victorian State Government, which has launched the Digital Jobs for Manufacturing Program.

The program provides funding of up to $5,000 per employee per training round, for up to five employees over the life of the program – a potential boost of $25,000 to upskill nominated existing employees. Those employees can undertake an industry-endorsed training course in one of the following high-demand digital skills (among others):

  • Data analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • IT operations and support
  • Web development
  • Digital marketing
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Robotic process automation.

The program has minimal eligibility criteria. If funded, applicants must incorporate relevant work activities into the employee’s position description on completion of the training, to ensure they have the opportunity to apply and embed their learning.

The Digital Jobs for Manufacturing Program is open for applications from Victorian businesses until 31 March 2024, unless funds are allocated earlier.

New South Wales has identified modern manufacturing as a key priority for the state’s future economy, and developing ‘advanced processes’, including digital skills, is one of three key pillars in its approach. The New South Wales Government has also appointed a Modern Manufacturing Commissioner, Lisa Emerson MSc, whose key focus in 2023 is to develop a modern manufacturing strategy for the state.

A state manufacturing strategy is also being developed in South Australia and is due for release in late 2023, while the Queensland Government’s manufacturing strategy is well established and includes a range of measures. Queensland's Digital Professional Workforce Action Plan aims to meet the expected demand for an additional 10,000 digital professionals by 2024, across a range of Queensland industries – including manufacturing.

Eligible regional manufacturers in Queensland can apply for assistance to develop their advanced manufacturing capabilities – including skills and training – through the Manufacturing Hubs Grant Program. Round 3 funding applications are currently open until 30 June 2024 or until all funding is allocated.

Federal Government support for digital upskilling

The increasing demand for digital skills in the sector presents an opportunity for manufacturers and their employees to gain valuable skills, remain relevant in a changing industry and take advantage of new opportunities, all while building Australia’s sovereign capability. Training and apprenticeship programs provide a great opportunity for those looking to upskill or transition into the industry – but there’s scope for more to be done.

The Federal Government has recently begun establishing Jobs and Skills Councils for various Australian industries – including manufacturing. The Manufacturing Industry Skills Alliance (Manufacturing Alliance) will work to enable the industry to have the right people with the right skills, to grow the sector through advanced manufacturing and innovation. Working with industry to enable increased access to training in digital skills will no doubt feature heavily in their priorities for the sector.

Industry initiatives to help close the skills gap

In addition to government efforts, industry groups are also advocating for the reskilling and upskilling of Australia’s manufacturing workforce. A July 2022 report from Ai Group’s Centre for Education & Training, looked at digital transformation across a number of industry sectors, including manufacturing, and outlined a series of recommendations to ensure Australian industry has the skills and capability to meet the changes and opportunities presented by Industry 4.0, and by digital transformation more broadly.

The majority of businesses interviewed by Ai Group reported difficulty recruiting and retaining staff with the required digital skills, and wanted to see an education and training system which better reflected these changing skill requirements.

The report also features a case study on Watkins Steel, an innovative manufacturing business who have worked closely with Eddie Chung and BDO's Business Services team in Brisbane to achieve increased profitability and sustainability. In the report, Watkins Steel Director Des Watkins notes that heavy investment in staff skills development has been crucial to the business’ successful digital transformation, which in turn has created more employment: “For every line of robotics commissioned, we have employed a further ten people…Robotics creates jobs. It doesn’t replace jobs.”

Overall, the push towards digital jobs in the manufacturing sector presents a significant opportunity for manufacturing businesses and their workforce. Companies can become more efficient, productive, and competitive in the global market by investing in digital skills and technology. With the government and industry bodies actively promoting the benefits of upskilling, the future looks bright for the manufacturing sector in Australia.

Resources to help manufacturers combat skill shortages

Our People Advisory and Immigration teams recently published an article outlining the ‘six levers of talent management’- strategies that organisations in Australia can use to solve talent gaps and address other workforce issues. Read the article to learn about some strategies your manufacturing business might employ to help combat digital – and other – skill shortages. In particular, the ‘build’ strategy - which focuses on retaining and building the skills and capability of your existing talent.

To find out more about grants or assistance that may be available to help re-skill or upskill the manufacturing workforce in your state, contact one of our manufacturing and wholesale or R&D and government grants teams.