Over $155 billion in freight and passenger rail projects will be delivered in Australia over the next 15 years. Projects include construction of rail infrastructure and rolling stock, as well as the digitisation of key rail systems, such as signalling. But without intervention, the rail sector is facing a skills and labour shortage within the next five years.
The National Rail Action Plan identified several critical challenges:
More people needed. Across Australia the sector is struggling to meet the demand for train drivers, controllers, track workers, signalling engineers and technicians, maintenance workers, electrical technicians and tunnellers. In construction alone, modelling shows 95,000 people are needed to deliver funded projects over the next three years.
New skills needed. As key rail infrastructure is digitised and new technologies are introduced, new types of jobs and higher-level skills are needed. The rail industry needs to attract people with digital and cyber-security skills but is currently struggling to compete in a competitive jobs market.
Skill development needs to be portable. States and territories have developed bespoke training in rail that has met the needs of their specific networks. Training in rail can often take a long time to complete – but without the gains or flexibility this comes with in other professions. As a result, many rail workers can't use their qualifications outside the state or territory they trained in.
Clear career pathways and entry points needed. The localised and uncoordinated nature of training in rail has resulted in a lack of visibility into the industry from the outside. New workers don’t have a clear picture of what they need to enter the industry at different levels and how careers in rail can develop.
Need to attract a diverse workforce. The lack of visibility into the rail industry has hidden the diversity of roles in the sector. Added to that, the current rail workforce is male-dominated, and aging at 2.6 times faster than the rate of other industries. Rail needs to attract a new generation of workers, without losing the skills of the current workforce.