Future Rail Skills Forum - Shaping the Next Generation Workforce

08 Aug 2023

A national approach to rail skills strategy

Australia’s rail industry needs to attract more women and young people and adopt a collaborative, national approach to training to address a chronic skills shortage.

With specialised digital roles in rail expected to grow by 83% by 2027, and 70,000 extra workers needed over the next decade to build and run $155 billion of new infrastructure projects, the modernisation of Australia’s rail network is feeling the impact of the global talent crunch.

High-level leaders from education and rail sectors, governments and unions came together to tackle this challenge at the first Future Rail Skills Forum.

The Forum, hosted by the National Transport Commission and the Australasian Railway Association, focused on ways to:

  • identify critical digital skills for the future
  • create a younger, more diverse workforce
  • develop training programs that make it easier for rail workers to move and work across the 17 different networks that make up Australia’s rail system.


Hear what our participants had to say:

In his keynote address, Australia’s Minister for Skills and Training, Hon Brendan O’Connor noted the important role rail plays in the supply chain supporting Australia’s economy. And the need for a digital workforce strategy to plan for the impact of technological change.

“The systems keeping our supply chains operating need to be developed and maintained by systems analysis and software engineers, not to mention the growing need for cybersecurity across the board.”    Australia’s Minister for Skills and Training, Hon Brendan O’Connor


Other speakers included international rail skills experts who spoke about their own country’s experiences with the skills and interoperability challenge. They shared strategies that are helping their countries to avoid wage inflation and significant cost over-runs on rail infrastructure projects.

Skills gap solutions raised during presentations and workshop discussions included the need to:


  • create a more mobile workforce 


“The challenge about skills development isn’t just about digital skills. It’s about addressing interoperability issues, making it far more efficient and easier for workers to train in and work across the 17 different systems that make up Australia’s rail network.”   Carolyn Walsh, Chair National Transport Commission

“It’s very difficult to build a national skills system without standardised systems, standardised terminology, standardised job titles, that allow people to move across jurisdictions and networks and be recognised for what they do and the skills they possess.” Paul Humphries, Industry Engagement Manager, Industry Skills Association.


  • share data to better understand the changing workforce 

“If we cannot anticipate more effectively what the labour market needs, then our investment in education, training is going to be misplaced and it's going to miss the mark.” Australia’s Minister for Skills and Training, Hon Brendan O’Connor


  • raise rail’s visibility and attractiveness as a career

  • targeting young people early – in both secondary and primary schools
  • highlighting its contribution to sustainability and decarbonisation
  • emphasising the career pathways and opportunities to learn new skills.

“We need to have more awareness that the industry exists and how great it can be. It’s fun, it’s interesting and you learn every day.” Naomi Knight, Head of Engineering, Siemen’s ANZ

“Rail has an opportunity to promote the fantastic career opportunities that are available and the amazing role it is playing in reducing Australia’s carbon footprint.” Jacqui Walters, National Rail Manufacturing Advocate


  • improve workforce culture to increase diversity and bring more women into the sector

Occupations which are highly gender skewed, are much more likely to be in shortage.”  David Turvy, First Assistant Secretary, Jobs and Skills Australia

“The ARA is looking at the experience of women in our industry, their pathways … and the participation rate in training. We need to see the number of women who are not competing that training, the way they engage with training and how that differs to the male experience.” Caroline Wilkie, Chair, Australasian Railway Association

“As an industry we need to be more friendly to people who don’t traditionally see themselves looking at a career in rail,” Jacqui Walters, National Rail Manufacturing Advocate



  • make greater use of apprenticeships and TAFES

“As of September 2021, there are fewer apprentices and trainees in the rail transport industry than there were before the pandemic, and frankly, that isn't good enough.” Australia’s Minister for Skills and Training, Hon Brendan O’Connor

“(In the UK) we want to invest more in rail, but we don’t have enough people. We raised our apprenticeships from 700 to 2,500 but we need to be training 5000 apprentices a year.” Neil Robertson, CEO, National Skills Academy for Rail, UK


  • encourage industry, VET and higher ed collaboration 

“The ARA is speaking to the university sector about what role we as an industry can play to support them developing rail specific courses.” Caroline Wilkie, Chair Australasian Railway Association



  • maintain existing skills through the transfer of knowledge of ageing workers


  • leverage learning from other industries

“(When it comes to interoperability) Australia has got to understand the changing complexity of projects ... That’s through training and learning from other industries such as the IT sector which has spent the last decade perfecting this.” Robert Scarbro, Director, System Integration, Systra


Read more about the event in our Future Rail Skills Forum Highlights report