Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest is hoping he can make RM Williams 100 percent Australian-made again, saying he will do “whatever it takes” to make it happen.
Forrest made the comments while visiting the RM William’s factory in Salisbury, Adelaide earlier this week with his wife Nicola.
It was the first time the couple set foot in the factory since their investment firm Tattarang acquired the iconic brand in October, returning the famous boots to Australian-ownership.
Forrest said bringing full production to Australia would need to be a staged process, and setting a timeframe was unrealistic.
Currently, it is estimated that 35 percent of production for the iconic boots takes place overseas including countries such as Portugal, Bangladesh, and Hong Kong.
Forrest noted though, that the factory, which currently makes 1,200 boots per day, needed to be expanded to keep up with demand.
However, it was the skills shortage that had the billionaire really concerned.
“Now we’re doing it to a large extent, but to a larger extent we don’t have the skills here among us,” he told reporters.
“To generate those skills we probably need to bring others in to help train us, so we re-skill and upskill and we do things in our company, in our state, in our country, which have been done all over the world,” he added.
He lamented that Australia had lost many of the trades that used to underpin local manufacturing.
“We don’t even have a TAFE which can provide the skills here in South Australia, so we’ve really got to start at ground floor,” he said.
Forrest’s Tattarang acquired the 88-year-old company from U.S. private equity firm L Catterton, bringing it under Australian ownership for the first time since 2014.
A YouGov survey conducted by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) last year found local sentiment for Australian-made goods was on the rise.
“Now more than ever Australians want to be making our essential products here,” Daniel Walton, secretary of the AWU said.
“Australians make high-quality products and we do so efficiently,” he said.
The survey found 88 percent of Australians agreed local manufacturing should be making essential products, while 70 percent of Australians were more likely to buy Australian products than before.