Pushing the button on new automation skills

WA high school students will be able to train for Australia’s first automation qualifications from next year under a new education scheme backed by Rio Tinto.

The company said its collaboration with South Metropolitan TAFE and the State Government would deliver nationally-recognised training pathways to emerging jobs in automation.

The pace of automation was such that the Pilbara was “fast becoming the Silicon Valley of mining”, Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Chris Salisbury told a resource industry gathering held at SciTech in West Perth to announce the initiative.

Rio Tinto was already running intelligent mines, boasting unmanned trucks and drills, alongside the world’s “largest robot” – the company’s soon-to-be automated Pilbara rail network, he said.

Salisbury and Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery invited the industry guests at SciTech to join the Vocational Education and Training (VET) collaboration.

Rio Tinto previously committed up to $2 million to develop the new qualifications, while similar programs will also be made available through VET pathways in WA high schools. Together they will become Australia’s first nationally accredited courses in automation.

The plan may soon have the support of several other big mining names, with representatives from all of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara rivals – BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Roy Hill – present at the launch.

“I’ve had almost 30 years in this industry and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like today,” Salisbury said.

“We’re overwhelmed by the support of our industry comrades and will be working hard to get these courses up by 2019,” he said.

Alcoa, Woodside, Chevron, Quadrant, South32, Citic Pacific Mining and Yara also attended alongside service companies including Monadelphous, LinkForce, Komatsu and Caterpillar.

Questioned by reporters on the impact of automation on Rio Tinto’s Pilbara workforce numbers, Salisbury said the company had a track record of “re-skilling and redeploying” employees, such as former haul truck drivers becoming remote operators of automated trucks out of Perth.

“Automation is about improving safety and productivity, and reducing costs to stay globally competitive,” he said.

“We need to plan for that future – putting our head in the sand and just hoping that something happens is when you end up with a bad situation with lots of people losing their jobs. And that’s not what we want.”

Ellery said State Training Board Chairman Jim Walker had led consultation with the industry on what it expects from Government in respect of training, and where gaps existed.

“There is lots of talk about green shoots, but we want to make sure we get ahead of the game (on skills shortages),” she said.

Ellery said Rio Tinto had already “put its money where its mouth is” on wanting new training courses.

“I’m pleased with the contribution that Rio Tinto has made and, of course, I encourage other industries to think about doing the same sort of thing.”

Meanwhile, Apprenticeship Support Australia said it was important for industry to drive the new training courses.

“Ultimately, business is the end user of skills, so industry must be at the heart of vocational training for the system to deliver contemporary, relevant outcomes,” Apprenticeship Support Australia Manager Lena Constantine said.

“It is great to see an organisation like Rio Tinto, which is a great supporter of apprenticeships and traineeships, look at ways to invest in training its future skill needs.”

Investing in apprenticeships and traineeships helps to safeguard your future workforce. Talk to the Apprenticeship Support Australia team today to find out how we can support your business through apprenticeships and traineeships. 

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