Valuable lessons to be learnt from death of Holden

CEO PPBSA is a member of PA.
This post originally featured in The Advertiser alongside an article from David Penberthy on October 20th, 2017. Click here for the original.

WE’VE had something of a celebration of Holden in South Australia in recent weeks with parades and farewells featuring Aussie racing legends.

It’s been clever spin by General Motors and no doubt intended to protect its market share in Australia, but we should be under no illusion that as it packs its bags for China, GM will leave in its wake a trail of unnecessary and unprecedented unemployment.

Yes, there is a place at a funeral for some positive reflection and celebration, but the current car industry spin seems to have cast a fog across the state. We’ve never seen an entire industry pack up and leave and the human impact should not be underestimated.

One study by the University of Adelaide has estimated Holden has created 150,000 direct and indirect jobs. General Motors’ decision to leave Australia was not inevitable.

The withdrawal of government support for the car industry should never be forgotten and was done without honest recognition of the level of support provided by other governments around the world for automotive manufacturing.

Australia cannot survive on baristas. We must have a diversified economy with an advanced manufacturing sector. We must now turn our minds to replacing this industry and, more importantly, make sure the death of an industry never happens again.

There is hope with the submarines and frigates. The project promises an extra 8000 jobs in a high skilled manufacturing plus all the other support jobs generated. But we must learn some important lessons from the Holden experience so that these jobs and skills stay in Australia.

First, industry policy requires hard work from governments and that doesn’t come free. Governments should be working hard with the subs contractor to further opportunities and support new high skill manufacturing in Australia.

Second, unions can play a productive role. The agreement struck earlier this month between the designer and builder of the subs and the unions cannot be underestimated. Holden would never have stayed in Australia as long as they did without its cooperative working relationship with its workers and their unions.

Third, there has never been a more important time to invest in training and re-skilling our workforce. The difference between cars and submarines is the opportunity for high skilled manufacturing. Our competitive advantage is our people.

It is a sad time for South Australia and a time for reflection, not just because Holden was a big part of our past, but because we must learn for the sake of our future economic prosperity and jobs.

— Chris Walton, Chief Executive of Professionals Australia