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New school-based program showcases ‘cool’ career opportunities for Toowoomba students

On Wednesday, October 26, 2022, Toowoomba business NRG Services donated two mobile cold rooms valued at $17,000, each proudly built by St Mary’s College and Toowoomba Grammar School students under close supervision of NRG tradespeople as part of a newly developed school-based training program with TAFE Queensland.

It’s part of a new forward-thinking school-based training program to address a trade skills shortage in the booming refrigeration industry, that also saw two students offered apprenticeships with NRG Services.

NRG collaborated with TAFE Queensland to set up a Certificate II in Electrotechnology (Career Start) (UEE22020), delivered to St Mary’s College and Toowoomba Grammar School students for the first time this year.  And as part of the course, NRG with the assistance of various generous suppliers, donated materials and expertise to lead students in the construction of the mobile cold-rooms to be donated to both schools.

NRG Services operations manager Grant McMillan said the business, which provides trade services to the construction, health, education, rural, mining and energy sectors, initiated the course when they identified a lack of clear career pathways in the sector.

Grant said part of the problem was a lack of awareness of HVAC-R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) as a meaningful employment opportunity, although it’s one of the most in-demand and fastest-growing.

“Many students know about diesel fitting, building, plumbing and electrical but no one’s aware of the auxiliary trades and there’s some great and rewarding careers out there,” he said.

“As is the NRG way, when a solution isn’t readily available, we create one. We were placing ad after ad on job sites. We were posting on social media and implementing all of these different recruitment strategies and just never finding qualified people."

“An NRG manager suggested the company work with local high schools and TAFE Queensland to boost awareness and showcase the cool work `fridgies’, as refrigeration mechanics are known, do. So, we took it from there.”

The course exceeded expectations, with the company offering two outstanding students’ apprenticeships – one full-time and one school-based – with enrolments already filling for next year’s program.

St Mary’s Vice-Captain Lachlan Debel, 18, has accepted a full-time apprenticeship after what he describes as a life-changing experience as part of the program.

Lachlan admits he initially only participated as a way to represent the school in the business community. He had planned to study electrical engineering at university but was impressed by the real-world opportunities the NRG and TAFE Queensland collaboration offered and jumped at the chance of an apprenticeship.

The `jack of all trades’ nature of the job, with elements of electrical, plumbing and instrumentation made it an appealing career for Lachlan.

St Mary’s Career Development Practitioner and School-based Apprenticeship Co-ordinator Kris Glass congratulated Lachlan on his apprenticeship and said he looked forward to more students being offered opportunities through the school’s commitment to vocational education and training.

“Our school-based apprenticeships enable students to gain valuable experience and training in a wide range of industries from hairdressing, commercial cooking and information technology to plumbing and carpentry,’’ Kris said.

“It’s wonderful to see students find their feet and land job offers that will set them up after graduation from St Mary’s.”

The cold room will be used within the school setting for functions and events as well as filling needs in the local community.

Toowoomba Grammar Headmaster Dr John Kinniburgh said linking with local businesses such as NRG reinforced the school’s commitment to forging links with the community and providing diverse pathways for students.

“Last year 95 per cent of our Year 12 students received their first preference university choice, but at the same time, an impressive 45 per cent completed one or more Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualifications,” he said.

“It underlines that tertiary education and vocational qualifications do not need to be mutually exclusive.”

Dr Kinniburgh said the school would use the cool room for the many and varied charity and sporting events held at the school along with their major event every year of the Sony Camp that provides respite for many families with young children with special needs.

TAFE Queensland Leading Vocational Electrotechnology teacher Louis Fairbairn says partnerships with employers-of-choice such as NRG Services offered invaluable opportunities.

“Our students are picking up the tools of their trade, solving problems on the go and forging valuable connections with an amazing local employer,’’ Louis said.

Participants complete five weeks of work experience with NRG Services tradespeople, along with TAFE Queensland-delivered lessons as part of the 12-month course.

NRG also provided all students with a full tool kit, including a Milwaukee drill. As part of the Certificate II in Electrotechnology (Career Start) (UEE22020) course, students also gain a White Card needed to work on Queensland construction sites and credit towards the first stage of an electrical apprenticeship.

NRG Services marks its tenth year in business this year, with new apprentice Lachlan joining a team of about 160 based out of Toowoomba, Brisbane and Roma.

“We’re just looking for young adults with great attitudes and a willingness to learn from this great program and we can teach the rest,” Grant said.