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Keeping local trades on track

TAFE Queensland is working with Downer Group to skill their apprentices and ensure the future of the Fraser Coast trades sector, and the rail industry, is in safe hands.

Downer is already the largest employer on the Fraser Coast, with more than 365 staff working at their Maryborough Service Delivery Centre, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting the future of the community by investing in the development of local skills.

The rollingstock manufacturing, overhaul, repair and refurbishment facility has more than doubled its number of apprentice and trainee employees since 2019, employing the largest group of apprentices to commence training through TAFE Queensland at any one time at the start of 2021. It’s a feat they're aiming to achieve again, with the recruitment of an additional 15 to 20 apprentices planned for 2022.

John Shelford, Operations Manager at Downer said that by providing opportunities for the local community, Downer is not only growing and supporting the Australasian rail industry, but is encouraging bright, young people to stay and work in the region.

“At Maryborough we celebrate 30, 40, 50 years of service quite regularly with our team, but we need to ensure we have the next generation of skilled professionals within our business. There is a labour shortage in the market, which means the best way to gain the skills we need is to grow them internally,” John said.

We’re really proud of how much we’ve grown our apprentices on site, and we look forward to continuing our work with TAFE Queensland as our training provider to ensure they receive the quality training they need to succeed.”

With their teams currently working on key projects worth half a billion Australian dollars, Downer’s Maryborough facility is overflowing with opportunities for locals keen to pursue a career in electrical, fitting and turning, fabrication, fitting and machining, coachbuilding, and warehouse traineeships.

Lucy Williams and Michael Cope are among the 18 apprentices and trainees Downer has employed and began training through TAFE Queensland in 2021. While their journeys differ greatly, their experiences since becoming apprentices at Downer have both been overwhelmingly positive.

For 26-year-old mother Lucy, her apprenticeship with Downer was the lifeline she needed to continue pursuing her career in trades. Having broken her dominant wrist so severely it required multiple surgeries just three months into the second year of her automotive spray painting apprenticeship, Lucy was left without a job.

“I spent the next year working really hard to get back function, strength and movement. It took four months before I could write my name, and after eight months I could spray paint again,” Lucy said.

“But word had got around in Hervey Bay and as hard as I fought to prove myself, no panel shop would give me a chance.”

Lucy worked as a car detailer for the next few months, until her fiancé – who was applying for an electrical apprenticeship with Downer himself – noticed they were also advertising a surface finishing apprenticeship and encouraged her to apply.

“As we had a 10-week-old baby at the time, it was a huge decision for me to make. But remembering how hard it was for me to get into the industry, I couldn't pass up the chance to continue my apprenticeship,” she said.

Because of her prior experience, Lucy was able to jump straight back into the second year of her apprenticeship.

According to Lucy, the combination of the varied experiences of her team at Downer and the training she receives at TAFE Queensland mean she's gaining a more rounded knowledge than she could have expected anywhere else.

“Our team comes from a range of backgrounds, from automotive and house painters to a French polisher. There is so much to learn from everyone and it’s so amazing being part of a team of so many teachers,” Lucy said.

“TAFE Queensland has been amazingly accommodating too. Being a new course and still working out what applies to the industry, we have been able to modify assessments for the future generations that will be studying the course.”

As strong supporters of diversity in the trades sector, Downer has made great strides in this space through their apprenticeship employment program, doubling their number of female employees like Lucy, and increasing Indigenous participation since 2019. It’s a commitment that has influenced Lucy, who hopes to one day become a mentor to others like her.

“My career goal is to become fully qualified and hopefully have my own female apprentice to teach one day. I hope to be an inspiration for many women hoping to enter the trade industry.”

Taking a more scenic route into the trades industry, Michael started his apprenticeship at the age of 35 after working first as a banker, then a youth counsellor.

“I had spent the majority of the last 10 years working with disadvantaged youth and young adults in the local area, supporting them to find opportunities and take steps to improve their own lives. I guess it was just time for me to do the same,” Michael said.

“Since leaving school, there was a lot of pressure put on me to complete university and get a good job. Which I did, although I didn’t find the business world to be as rewarding as I'd hoped."

“I'd always had an interest in helping people and tinkering in the garage, and for a long time I regretted not doing a trade,” he said.

With this goal in mind, Michael enrolled in a Certificate II in Electrotechnology (Career Start) (UEE22011) – a prevocational course delivered by TAFE Queensland that provides students with the foundational skills they need to succeed in the electrical trade.

“As a mature-aged worker with no direct industry experience or contacts, the only opportunity I could see to make a complete career change into a trade was this course,” he said.

“It gave me the knowledge and industry skills I needed to show prospective employers I was committed and capable to complete an apprenticeship, and it gave me a great opportunity to experience the industry beforehand.”

After undertaking work experience with Downer during his certificate II, Michael secured an electrical apprenticeship with their Maryborough facility, where he now works under experienced tradesmen on everything from industrial maintenance to rail production work.

“As our Maryborough facility is quite large and has many rail projects on the go at any one time, apprentices rotate several times per year between projects, so I'm always given the opportunity to try new things, which always helps me to build my trade skills and confidence,” Michael said.

“I've had the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills from everyone around me, even skills that may not directly relate to my trade, and all that will contribute towards making me a great tradesman.”

TAFE Queensland offers a variety of workforce solutions, working closely with local businesses across a range of industries to provide their employees with training that is tailored to their needs. And with the State Government’s Free Apprenticeships for Under 25s funding available across a broad range of trades, there’s never been a better time to take on an apprentice.

Whether you’re looking to enter the trades industry, or you’re looking for a quality training provider to develop your apprentices’ skills, let TAFE Queensland help you define your greatness in 2022.