Using RPL to Engineer Your Career

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Using RPL to Engineer Your Career

Despite a forecast decline in Australian manufacturing over the next 5 years, the industry will continue to rely on qualified engineering tradespeople, such as sheet metal workers, fabricators, welders and machinists. For apprentices in the mechanical and fabrication trades, or anyone who has been suitably trained up with substantial on-the-job experience, RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) offers a simple way to get a nationally recognised qualification in the profession.

According to the Department of Employment’s industry report, 45,200 structural steel workers and welders, along with 37,000 fitters and machinists, accounted for the greatest contribution to the labour force in manufacturing last year, which highlights the continued importance of these skilled engineering trades in meeting the demands of the industry.

With skills shortages in this sector no longer a big priority, however, the competition for jobs is heating up all the more and there’s a driving need to get qualified in these occupations to maximise opportunities for long-term, stable employment.

What skills shortages still exist in the fabrication trade?

Sheet metal trades workers

Skills shortages continue to persist for sheet metal workers nationwide, making them a major exception to the conclusion that sufficient amounts of workers already exist in the engineering trades. The Department of Employment’s 2014 Survey of Employers Who Have Recently Advertised (SERA) revealed a substantial shortage of qualified sheet metal workers across the states of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. The main reasons cited were a lack of qualifications or experience. In Queensland, for instance, 95% of applicants were considered unsuitable and less than a quarter were qualified.

Metal fabricators

There was a surprising shortage of metal fabricators in Melbourne last year, with 39% of vacancies left unfilled and an average of only one suitable applicant per vacancy when surveyed in December. This is compared to a 100% fill rate in regional Victoria.

1st class welders

In contrast, 50% of vacancies for 1st class welders couldn’t be filled in regional Queensland, while 93% were filled successfully in metropolitan areas. That being said, less than half of all applicants held trade qualifications.

What does it take to work as a sheet metal worker, metal fabricator or welder?

The steps involved in sheet metal fabrication are usually computer controlled and work takes place across various sections of a factory, plant or workshop. Generally, you’ll need to be skilled at operating a whole range of machinery, from punching, laser cutting and grinding machines, to bending, forging, welding, painting, polishing and electroplating processes. The use of measuring tools, inspections, quality control and testing, during and after each fabrication stage, are all common practice, as are health and safety precautions. Employers generally look for between 3-5+ years of experience.

QUALIFICATIONS – Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade

What skills shortages still exist in the mechanical trade?

Metal machinists

1st class machinists are another exception when it comes to the evidence of skills shortages. A large proportion of vacancies went unfilled across NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia in 2014 because applicants lacked appropriate qualifications.


The survey of South Australia found that 57% of vacancies remained unfilled after 4 weeks of advertising and 39% didn’t have a qualification.

What does it take to work as a metal fitter or machinist?

These specialisations require comprehensive knowledge of the processes involved in the design, manufacture, assembly, installation, modification, service and repair of mechanical tools, equipment, machines, fluid power systems and computer numerically controlled (CNC) operations, often with the aid of detailed, computerised drawings. At least 2 years’ experience is required for employment and work is located in a workshop or on a production line.

QUALIFICATIONS: Certificate III in Engineering – Mechanical Trade

Employment opportunities

Based on the Australian Government’s job outlook initiative, employment is expected to remain very stable for structural steel workers and welders in the fabrication trade, and for fitters and machinists in the mechanical trade, up until 2018. Between 25,000 and 50,000 new job openings are predicted to arise during this time in each category, so it’s worthwhile specialising in one or more of these areas at the apprenticeship stage for anybody looking to secure steady full-time work.

RPL and Trade Skills Recognition

Endorsed by the Australian Government, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) offers an alternative route to qualifying in the mechanical and fabrication trades. RPL converts your skills, knowledge and work experience into a nationally recognised qualification without any study time. If you’ve previously completed most or part of a formal apprenticeship at TAFE, or another RTO (Registered Training Organisation), and have been working in the industry for a number of years, you could be eligible for an accredited qualification through an RPL assessment. It’s a fast and convenient process to gain official recognition for your trade skills and qualify in your discipline in a matter of weeks.

Do you want to get ahead in the race and beat the competition? Engineer your career in record time with RPL. Check your eligibility for RPL and Trades Skills Recognition via a free skills review, which can be completed online in 2-3 minutes.

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