The Demise of the Australian Auto Industry and the Occupational Mobility and Skills Transferability of Its Vulnerable Workers

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
263 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Darryn Snell, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Victor Gekara, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
The social disruptions and economic hardships associated with large-scale industrial restructuring have increasingly become the norm in the era of hypercapitalism. Workers and communities impacted by industrial change are often left devastated as they struggle to find economic and job alternatives.   In this paper, we examine the Australian automobile industry and its workforce which is in the midst of significant transition.  In 2013, Australia’s three car manufacturers (General Motors, Ford and Toyota) announced plans to cease manufacturing operations in Australia.  All major auto industry manufacturing is currently expected to end by 2017 with some 27,500 direct jobs and up to 100,000 indirect jobs being impacted by the closures (Australian Government 2014; Worrall and Spoehr, 2014).  The auto industry workforce is dominated by men in their 50s with highly specialised skills and limited labour market experience. While many of these workers thought they had a job for life they now confront significant employment uncertainty.  Car manufacturers and the Australian Federal and State Governments have been working through a range of initiatives to support and assist auto industry workers in ‘transition’ involving career advice and counselling, skills assessment and recognition of prior learning, upskilling and retraining and support and identification of new job opportunities.   Growing research, however, suggests that for many retrenched workers the identification and utilisation of transferable skills are important for cross-occupational mobility and securing alternative employment (Curtis and McKenzie, 2001; Misko, 1990; European Commission, 2011; Snell and Gekara, 2016).   In this paper we consider the role of transferable skills in assisting auto industry employees in finding alternative employment and occupational mobility and how well workers, auto firms, training system actors and employment facilitators understand the importance of transferable skills in worker transition.  The paper draws upon a mixed method approach that includes both semi-structured interviews with auto industry workers, human resource managers and those assisting auto workers in transition and a more quantitative auto industry occupational skills transferability analysis developed by the authors to assist  in managing skills transferability and occupational mobility. The paper argues that a ‘just transition’ for displaced workers requires those assisting workers in transition to more thoroughly understand the role of transferable skills in occupational mobility and to develop better tools for identifying occupations within local labour markets which offer skills transferability prospects.