As Australia’s third-largest economy, Greater Western Sydney (GWS) represents a significant and growing trade corridor that employs more than a million Australians.1 It also has a long history as a manufacturing powerhouse.
The importance of GWS and its standing as a manufacturing centre was recently reiterated by the New South Wales Premiere, Dominic Perrottet. As the state government announced that Western Sydney would be home to a new Advanced Manufacturing Research Facility2, the Premier said, “this region is the barometer for opportunity in Australia and when Western Sydney goes well, Australia goes well."
The opportunities and challenges shaping the sector’s future were the focus of the recent CommBank Western Sydney Manufacturing Roundtable. Leaders from a diverse range of manufacturers convened in Paramatta to discuss the trends impacting their business and the industry.
While the conversation traversed the shifting economics of manufacturing, digital transformation, and the rising importance of sustainability initiatives, the topic of the day was people. Specifically, how to reconcile labour shortages and booming demand.
David Fox from South Windsor-based livestock producer, Pepe’s Ducks, neatly summed up the prevailing sentiment, saying ‘the biggest challenge is people, and we can’t get any. Demand is greater than supply and we’re seeing that globally.” Every leader in attendance agreed.
However, problem solving is part of the manufacturing industry’s DNA. According to CommBank’s Manufacturing Insights Report3 released earlier in 2022, 84% of Australian manufacturers said they had adapted well to the disruptions of the pandemic.
Given this resilience and Western Sydney’s outsized contribution to national manufacturing, it’s no surprise that business leaders are exploring new ways to bridge the skills gap.
Leaving no stone unturned
Assessing the skills shortfall from short- and long-term perspectives, there was a shared focus among roundtable attendees on finding new and sustainable talent pools.
A focus on developing younger team members at varying stages of their careers was common, including increasing graduate intake and investing in training programs. This extended to engaging with technical colleges like TAFE, where their facilities and equipment could be used to upskill workers in areas of high demand, like CNC machining and robotics.
Other organisations are turning to recruitment agencies for the first time for factory workers and considering tapping into people over 65 returning to the workforce. While not a new focus, there was a consensus that increasing female participation in the manufacturing workforce is another important factor.
Technology adoption was also widely discussed, particularly where robotics and automation can help alleviate a lack of skilled labour. However, attendees agreed that manufacturers must also bring in new and specialised capabilities to make the most of technology.
Creating great places to work
Given the intensifying competition for workers in Western Sydney, leaders are focusing not just on attracting new talent but on how to keep their staff happy. For the roundtable attendees, the right culture is vital to balance job satisfaction and productivity.
This was echoed in the CommBank Manufacturing Insights Report, with employee engagement, including workplace culture, purpose and flexibility, ranking as the top area of investment to capture growth opportunities.
There was a consensus that creating a great place to work is vital to attracting and retaining talent and the importance of mindset and culture. In particular, ensuring that there’s an atmosphere of excitement and innovation to energise the team.
Kuldeep Wahi, the CFO of Prestons-based Titus Tekform, agrees mindset can be powerful, seeing the positives and negative impacts. “When I started at Titus, it had just acquired a technology firm with experienced staff who had been with the business for 30 years,”
“When I came in, one of the first initiatives was to go paperless to eliminate errors, and while the team were initially resistant to change, that gradually shifted. It showed the impact entrenched mindsets can have but also that people are adaptable,” Kuldeep said.
One manufacturer offered the practices and processes of Lean manufacturing as a way not just to improve processes but to engage employees. It was discussed that by embracing the Lean philosophy, well-functioning teams could work better together, positively impacting people’s perception of their roles and workplace.
Encouragingly, these viewpoints are shared by manufacturers outside of Western Sydney too. The CommBank Manufacturing Insights Report3 showed that manufacturers' most widely adopted sustainability measure is increasing workplace health, safety, and staff wellbeing. And escalating talent shortages may help explain why most manufacturers are progressing with these initiatives faster than expected.