The WA government’s decision to return 660 road maintenance workers to Main Roads could be a boon for apprenticeships, according to an Aboriginal-owned contractor.

Main Roads employed over 2000 employees in 1985 but began to subcontract road maintenance jobs in the 1990s.

The decision to move road maintenance and minor road improvement projects in-house will create 660 permanent jobs within Main Roads, 490 in regional WA and 170 in the Perth metropolitan area.

A detailed analysis produced by Ernst & Young in 2021 determined an in-house delivery model would drive economic growth, enhance Aboriginal employment, improve education uptake and increase the capacity and capability of Main Roads.

Cundaline Resources general manager Barry Taylor said the move would hold benefits for apprentices.

“I think for the working population of WA it’s a good decision because that allows Main Roads to employ apprentices whereas I don’t think many of the tier one contractors do that,” he said.

“If you look back 30 to 40 years ago, state government organisations like Main Roads and local government throughout WA were the biggest employers of Indigenous people.

“When they outsourced and privatised, a lot of Aboriginal people lost their jobs.

“Hopefully we can go back to when local Indigenous people were employed by Main Roads in Carnarvon, in the Wheatbelt, in the Pilbara, in the Kimberley.”

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said Main Roads would engage directly with local Aboriginal businesses and workers.

“Main Roads will be offering full-time employment to people currently working as crew members under the existing network contracts, as the contracts expire,” she said.

“The use of Aboriginal businesses in capital works contracts will continue, building on recent successes across the State.

“Additionally, there will be partnership opportunities with local training companies to upskill and provide further employment opportunities for local Aboriginal people through the capital and maintenance works.”

Operations will be brought in-house progressively with a majority of work to be completed by March 2024, and after January 2026 for Kimberley contractors.