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At its peak, more than 50 years ago, the factory employed about 600 people, a far cry from the 70 or so who work there now.
While Australian manufacturing's broader decline has been well documented, its changing nature is of keen interest to the workers at this factory, giving them a mixture of hope and uncertainty.
But there is one constant in Ballarat: a 50-tonne crane built in 1919 that still does the heavy lifting.
"They're very reliable," Production Manager Mick Selby said.
"They're very very structurally sound, and they do a magnificent job."
Ballarat's workers are competing against exporters in large countries which, in some cases, were founded years after this crane was built.
Cracking 'a tonne' worth of trainsFrench manufacturer Alstom took over the Ballarat train factory from the State Government in 1999, and after subcontracting the site out to another company, has been building trains for Melbourne's network since 2012.
This month, Alstom is celebrating the construction of 100 trains since the site was privatised; a milestone that Mr Selby said had special meaning for the workers.
"Getting back to it is the human part of it as well, the human factor of getting the tradesmen, getting them all working together and having pride in our completed product," he said.
"To see that something has been assembled, manufactured here in Victoria for Victorians, and when we see it roll out on it's way to Melbourne, there is that sense of pride."
Alstom competes for State Government contracts and sources about 50 per cent of the materials used to build its trains from Australian suppliers.
When it is not being contracted to build trains— periods that can last for months at a time and comes at a cost to the company's bottom line — Alstom commissions its employees to do work for the council and other local organisations.
One of those workers, Peter Walls, has been employed at the Ballarat factory for 27 years and he is worried for the future of manufacturing.
"It's slowly disappearing in Australia that's for sure," Mr Walls said.
"Everything is going overseas, and we're sort of lucky to have what we've got now especially here in Victoria, we're losing a lot of manufacturing companies."
"I'd like to keep it going, keep it here."
Alstom signed a $94 million contract with the State Government in July which will see an additional five trains built at the Ballarat factory between April and December 2019.
Manufacturing downturn 'unlikely'Head of Victoria for the Australian Industry Group, Tim Piper, said manufacturing was doing "reasonably well" with $100 billion worth of projects currently underway across the state.
"The one thing that regional manufacturing always has is that a downturn can affect it more quickly than elsewhere but with the pipeline of projects we have in Victoria at the moment, a downturn doesn't really look too likely," he said.
"It's a smaller environment, they usually have fewer orders and they're relying on any particular activity that may be happening at that time."
But Mr Piper said that with continued access to government contracts and more technological innovation, manufacturers like those in Ballarat should be optimistic.
"The number of projects that we have is enabling the regional manufacturing to look further afield than just Victoria and just the rest of Australia."
Mr Piper said the national performance of manufacturing index, which measures business confidence among Ai Group's members, had been in positive territory for 22 months.
A recent CBA Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index showed activity expanded in July, albeit at its slowest rate since May 2016.
Nonetheless, Mr Piper said the nature of the industry was changing and as the need to digitise and innovate increased, so too will demand for diploma qualified, high-skilled workers.
"It's not going to be the same operation as before, it's going to be more advanced," he said.
"It will be about making sure that we're doing things much more efficiently, using resources better and really coming to terms with technology."
The skills needed to manufacture 'undervalued'
When Alstom employee Wayne Terry started his trade more than 20 years ago, "every second bloke was a fitter and turner".
"But now there's not many of them around," he said.
"Manufacturing, probably 15 years ago, 20 years ago, went down hill and a lot of people got out of it."
"There's my age and then it goes back to the younger, like there's not many in between, you're older or you're younger."
One of Mr Terry's co-workers, Luke Cornish, said the general public did not appreciate who built the public transport they used.
"You are sort of getting put down I suppose to a chippy or a concreter," he said.
"But we've got skills which make us just as clever."
While Mr Cornish said while he had a deep appreciation for the factory's history and the bonds between past and present workers, he did worry about the industry's future.
"Let's be honest there was 700 people working at this factory 30 years ago and there's 40 full-timers now," Mr Cornish said.
"Things have changed in our life but you try to keep it normal," he said.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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