Formwork Industry Association addresses the skills shortage

In response to the enduring safety challenges and skills shortage within the formwork sector, executive leader Michael Sugg puts forth a series of solutions.

By Michael Sugg, chief executive officer, Formwork Industry Association.

As the Australian construction industry grapples with a shortage of skilled workers, the formwork sector faces unique challenges in maintaining safety standards alongside the demand for specialised skills. Formwork construction demands precision, expertise and an unwavering commitment to safety. In this article, we delve into the safety implications of the skills shortage in the Australian formwork industry and propose comprehensive solutions that prioritise training, collaboration and safety.

Safety challenges

1. Specialised safety knowledge: Formwork construction is classed as ‘high-risk’ and requires a specific set of skills. It involves unique safety considerations, including securing formwork structures, managing loads and ensuring the stability of temporary works, as well as managing specific formwork work health and safety (WHS) hazards. The shortage of skilled workers in the formwork industry can lead to gaps in safety knowledge, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries, with costs to all involved.

2. Inadequate safety training: A shortage of skilled workers often means a shortage of workers adequately trained in safety protocols. In the formwork sector, a high-risk working environment where precision is paramount, insufficient safety training can result in increased incidents, compromising both workers’ wellbeing and project timelines.

3. Ageing workforce and safety risks: Like the broader construction industry, the formwork sector grapples with an ageing workforce. Many skilled formwork professionals are nearing retirement, leaving a void that is difficult to fill with adequately trained and experienced workers. Ensuring a pipeline of well-trained, safety-conscious workers becomes crucial to maintaining a safe working environment.

Safety solutions

1. Comprehensive safety training programs: A skills and education pathway is essential for our industry, including formwork-specific safety training programs and certified qualifications. These programs should cover the intricacies of formwork safety, including risk management, controlling formwork hazards, proper installation procedures and awareness of the Formwork Code of Practice. Collaboration with safety experts and regulatory bodies can ensure the creation of effective and up-to date safety training modules that can be delivered onsite.

2. Safety-centric apprenticeships: Apprenticeship programs should not only focus on technical skills but also prioritise safety education. Mentorship during apprenticeships should emphasise the importance of adhering to safety protocols, instilling a culture of safety from the early stages of a formworker’s career. Digital micro-credential safety training courses should be available to apprentices at all times.

3. Continuous safety education: The formwork industry should embrace ongoing safety education to keep workers abreast of evolving safety standards and emerging technologies. Regular onsite workshops, micro-credential courses, seminars and safety drills can enhance the safety consciousness of the workforce.

4. Collaborative safety initiatives: Formwork companies, industry associations, industry players, educational institutions, government bodies and safety regulators should collaborate to establish and enforce safety standards. A collective effort can lead to the development of industry-specific safety guidelines, ensuring a consistent approach to safety across projects.

Formwork Industry Association addresses the skills shortage
The Formwork Industry Association’s proposed new education and skills pathway. (Image: FIA)

Safety at the forefront

The skills shortage in the Australian formwork industry requires a targeted and collaborative approach that places safety at the forefront. By investing in comprehensive, formwork-specific safety training, safety-centric apprenticeships, continuous education, collaborative safety initiatives and the integration of technological solutions, the formwork sector can effectively address skills shortages. This, in turn, will ensure the wellbeing of our workforce and contribute to the success of construction projects, fostering the continued growth of Australia’s built environment.

Addressing these challenges head-on, the Formwork Industry Association’s (FIA) proposed new education and skills pathway, and particularly the Safe Formworker Program, emerges as a beacon of hope. It offers tailored solutions to bridge the skills gap and fortify safety practices within the formwork industry.

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