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AUSTRALIA’S economic recovery efforts are being derailed by the federal government failing to fast-track automotive industry workers despite a national job vacancy rate in technicians and auto electricians estimated to be 31,000-plus people.

Under the federal government’s Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) – which allocates rapid opportunities to skilled people outside of Australia – 22 occupations were added on June 22.

The total list of 41 occupations being fast-tracked for migrant workers now includes nine for engineers, four for accountants and auditors, six for nursing, and one each for chefs, social workers and psychiatrists.

There are none for any workers in the automotive industry.

Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) CEO Geoff Gwilym said the lack of any automotive occupation on the list “is a slap in the face to thousands of Australian automotive businesses struggling to meet demand and keep the nation moving and connected”.

“The failure to include mechanics (light and heavy vehicle and diesel), panel beaters and vehicle painters not only says automotive is not a priority but industries, infrastructure projects and the mobility and connectivity of Australians are also not a priority,” he said.

Motor Trade Association of WA CEO Stephen Moir said: “The federal government has fast-tracked migrant workers for the resources industry but ignored other industries, including the automotive sector.”

He said the resources industry was “quick” to take tradespeople from the automotive industry, leaving the national workshops and dealerships critically short of skilled people to work on vehicles.

He also said the list was dominated by engineers yet there was no mention of auto electricians despite the MTA WA desperately needing 600 auto electricians and nationally, 5000 were needed to fill vacancies.

Overall, the national MTA body said it has more than 31,000 vacant positions it urgently needs filling for the automotive industry to maintain its level of vehicle servicing and repair for Australian motorists.

Mr Gwilym said the PMSOL failed to acknowledge a current shortage of 31,140 skilled positions across automotive industries – the highest skilled labour shortage ever recorded – and its impact on the service and repair of the 20-million strong national vehicle fleet.

“Delays to work commencement are stretching to days and weeks,” he said.

“Some work is not getting done at all, and some businesses are opting to sell equipment and downgrade capacity and capability as the only viable alternative to skills shortages.

“We can demonstrate these delays now impacting infrastructure projects, freight, general transport, deliveries, civil works, not to mention Australian’s reliance on their car, motorcycle, truck tractor or other vehicles.”

Mr Gwilym added that automotive businesses were doing everything in their power to address skills shortages.

Geoff Gwilym

“Almost without exception, auto businesses are paying well above award wages, they are incentivising remuneration packages and work-life arrangements, seizing every assistance measure and opportunity to hire,” he said.

“For example, the current apprentice subsidy contributes a near 40 per cent increase in auto apprentices nationally. But it’s not enough to overcome the gap filled by skilled migration.”

Mr Gwilym said as an example, he was aware of an Australian automotive business in which trading is vibrant and at pre-pandemic levels that could appoint 55 people immediately across mechanical repair, metal fabrication and spray-painting occupations.

“However, after seven months of job advertisements, most applicant interest is from overseas,” he said.

“Almost none of the handful of domestic applicants were suitable due to a lack of experience, low skills or because they were only applying to satisfy JobSeeker application requirements.

“Other auto businesses are increasingly concerned that a failure to prioritise automotive occupations will further delay skilled migrants who have already been identified and are waiting to arrive to address shortages.

“Now, Australia’s economic recovery could falter if skilled migration for automotive occupations is not included as a priority immediately.”

By Neil Dowling