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Helping country kids thrive in a trade career

Employer John Green is passionate about helping young people in Cloncurry gain quality trade skills.

A boilermaker by trade, John is part-owner and manager of Field Engineering Services. The Cloncurry business specialises in engineering, fabrication and mechanical repairs, covering everything from mine site maintenance to building trailers from scratch and even creating props for TV show Australian Survivor.

With three decades of industry experience under his belt, John is enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge with others.

"I'm passionate about Cloncurry and about building local kids from the ground up. Over the years, experience has taught me that the best way to build a good workforce is through training locals. I find your retention of labour is a lot better and your whole workforce has a different outlook on life because they're living and working in their home community," John said.

"You struggle to get that loyalty with workers who are part of the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) program. There is a revolving door of FIFO tradies going off to a better job for more money or fewer hours for the same money. But if you're recruiting locals, you don't have to try and bring people here and convince them it's a great place. The kids here love living in Cloncurry — it's their home, so why not give them a go."

John's apprentices attend TAFE Queensland's Mount Isa campus for training.

"I finished my own training at TAFE in Mount Isa and I have always been impressed with the setup there. I think it's a very good facility; it runs well and it produces good tradespeople. I think TAFE Queensland is a great institution and it's definitely an integral part of the North West."

"I've never had any problem from any workers who have been through TAFE. My qualified diesel fitters went through TAFE and I've got two kids signed up for diesel fitting in school-based apprenticeships at the moment. Because they're still in high school, they come here for half a day every week. It gives them a feel for the trade and they can decide early on if this is really what they want to do for a career."

John said apprentices need to be dedicated to their trade.

"It's a fairly big commitment to get through an apprenticeship. I don't think a lot of people appreciate the time and effort it takes. Especially when other kids are running around straight out of high school getting better money doing other jobs. Apprentices don't start out on big money and they train for four years. But the difference is when an apprentice becomes qualified, they're on four times the money those other kids ever get."

John credits TAFE Queensland for being flexible when it comes to apprentice training.

"In my experience, TAFE Queensland is dedicated to producing tradespeople, not partial tradies. So while the organisation supports apprentices who want to advance and complete their training quicker, they still have to get through and pass everything to be signed off as competent. I think it's a smart move for TAFE to accommodate those kids who are passionate about their trade and are keen to complete their training early, which is what Jack's done."

Jack Green is John's son. Twenty-one-year-old Jack attended TAFE Queensland to study a Certificate III in Engineering - Fabrication Trade (MEM30305). He completed his boilermaking apprenticeship in two years, instead of the usual four.

"Jack's been working with me since he was about 10 years old. He also did some work experience with other businesses around town after school, so he had a good head start. I made sure he had a taste of everything and I was a bit surprised when he decided to become a boilermaker. Jack definitely had an opportunity to go to any other trade but chose boilermaking and I was pretty happy he did."

"I copped some flack from his mother because she thought I pushed him into it. But I can tell you now, I didn't," laughed John.

Field Engineering Services didn't have to pay training fees for Jack's apprenticeship. Instead, the training was subsidised, covered by the free apprenticeships for under 25s initiative.

John said funded training eases the financial burden businesses face when they take on an apprentice.

"I think every incentive is good and needed. The biggest hit for businesses is when their apprentices are offsite attending training. From a business point of view, it's always hard to pay an apprentice an hourly rate when they're not at work working. Removing fees associated with an apprentice's training definitely helps small businesses."

John said young people who are considering a trade career should reach out to a local employer for advice.

"I'm always happy to help a kid out who's interested in a trade career. They can come and knock on my door, it's always open. Even if I can't take them on, I could tell them about other companies that might be interested. Businesses network pretty well in the North West and we tend to try and look out for each other."