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Skilled migration scheme overlooks the auto trade

Automotive businesses need skilled migrant workers, but current government schemes aren’t granting them the required opportunities

In September 2020, to help the Australian economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the government created a scheme that prioritised the immigration of skilled workers for critical sectors.

The Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) initially identified 17 occupations, including registered nurse, medical practitioner and mechanical engineer, which urgently required additional skilled workers to support the health and economy sectors.

However, the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) says that the list overlooked automotive trades that need significant assistance – and that neglecting such businesses, which are already experiencing a skilled worker deficit, could hamper efforts to stabilise the economy.

Under the temporary scheme, priority processing of visas is granted to immigrants with skills relevant to the PMSOL. To further attract skilled immigrants, those sponsored by an Australian business can be exempted from COVID-related entrance restrictions, although they still have to endure and cover the cost of a 14-day quarantine.

The PMSOL has since been expanded to include a total of 44 lines of work, with newly added jobs including pharmacists, accountants, surveyors and mining engineers – but absent from the list are all manner of key automotive roles.

Geoff Gwilym, chief executive officer of the VACC, said: “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.

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

According to the VACC, the current shortage of 31,140 skilled automotive workers is the highest ever recorded, despite the efforts of apprentice-boosting schemes and subsidies. 

This shortfall, if left unattended, will continue to degrade businesses and have a significant impact on the 20 million vehicles in the national fleet.  

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