From shoes to Television sets and computers to Satellites, one will find the fingerprints of a precision toolmaker. Toolmakers make dies, moulds, tools, jigs and fixtures to make specific products in large quantities. In essence, without toolmakers the world stops. As a young nation Australia was fast industrialising since the Second World War. No wonder Toolmakers were one of the most sought after in Australia. Toolmaking occupied critical shortage list for migration until 2010.
On 12th April 1958 , In Tellichery , a village famous for its scenic beauty located in the Southern state of India, NTTF Technical foundation was born as a joint venture between Church of South India and HEKS (Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen der Schweiz), of Switzerland . A noble effort to impart the technical expertise and knowledge required to build Tools and Moulds for the rapidly industrialising post-independence India. The training was world class and the devotion of the instructors incomparable . After the cut and polish, when the gems came out after 4 years of training, Indian Industries recruited them even without an interview.
Australian Government wasted no time in recognising NTTF certificate for job purposes in Australia. By mid – eighties, in the manufacturing state of Victoria, It was nearly impossible to find a toolmaking company that doesn’t have an NTTF graduate on its payroll.
In 1992, Mr Hitler David, an NTTF graduate migrated to Australia in 1975,invited around 70 NTTF professionals resident in Victoria and established the NTTF Alumni Association of Victoria. There are currently about 600 NTTF professionals in the state of Victoria alone.
As the old saying, “Good times never last long “, Australia was in for a Chinese invasion of a different kind. Tools imported from China were costing only a fraction of the cost of manufacturing them here in Australia. At times even less than the material cost. Victoria, the manufacturing state of Australia was slowly becoming an outsourcing hub. The rules of the game changed and there was never going to be a level playing ground. Australia definitely lost its edge in manufacturing. Many toolmaking companies shut their doors permanently and those in business are struggling to cope with the ever increasing competition from overseas.
The labour market rating survey conducted by Australian Government on the demand for Toolmakers in Australia looked more or less like the obituary .
Toolmakers Job demand Survey results
Employers filled 82 per cent of their surveyed vacancies and attracted 2.1 suitable applicants per vacancy (compared with 48 per cent and 1.4 in 2010), indicating an easing in the labour market.
Employers attracted more than 20 applicants per vacancy, a significantly stronger response than that recorded in 2010 when there were about 6.3 applicants per vacancy.
All employers sought applicants with a minimum of Certificate III qualifications and some employers required additional specialised skills such as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining experience, benchwork experience, or plastic die casting. Some employers were prepared to offer on-the-job training to fill their vacancies.
Vacancies were evenly split between new positions and positions arising due to staff turnover.
Survey respondents indicated overseas manufacturing competition is a contributing factor to the decline of their industry. Despite an overall decline, employer comments indicate that business is strong in some areas such as toolmaking for aerospace and medical manufacturing. Employers in these sub-sets reported buoyant demand for their services.
The DEEWR Internet Vacancy Index shows that advertised vacancies for toolmakers and engineering patternmakers declined 25 per cent over the year to October 2011 and is down 58 per cent from its peak in April 2008.
Indian Toolmakers with minimum 10 years of Australian work experience may manage to have a favourable look at their resumes by prospective employers. But new comers are finding it extremely hard to find work, most stuck in repetitive type of production work and menial jobs. On the brighter side, a sizable number of NTTF graduates have undertaken further studies in Engineering, Management, Accounting and Mining. Many NTTF graduates are working as Software professionals, Real Estate agents, Accountants and Managers after undertaking higher studies. The policies implemented by Australian Government make higher studies less burdensome for the immigrants financially.
Certain areas related to Toolmaking are still in demand in Australia. They are CNC Machining, CAD, CAM and Product design. It is my advice that any Toolmaker planning to migrate to Australia should try to get work experience in these areas before coming here.
Despite the gloom, many Toolmaking business owners share a misplaced optimism that the good times will be back in not so distant future. They pin their hopes on the poor quality of Chinese Tools and the ever increasing labour costs in China, conveniently ignoring other emerging cheap production houses like Vietnam , Bangladesh and Nigeria.