An innovative trade readiness course is leading the way in creating a new breed of “tech-savvy” tradies. The course, which is run by TAFE NSW in Wollongong, gives new fitting and machining, electrical and engineering apprentices and cadets a primer in everything from machine operating to money management.
Peter Buttenshaw is TAFE NSW Head of Skills Team, and he reckons that the increasing automation of many trades has triggered a seismic shift in the way apprentices learn.
The eight-week course, which has been running for about a decade, had its latest intake on 7th January 2019, with apprentices from a range of leading companies, including BlueScope Steel, Snowy Hydro and mining companies South32, Peabody and Simek.
The content is tailored specifically for heavy industry and has a strong focus on work, health and safety, ensuring graduates can integrate more seamlessly into a new workplace. It also covers machine operating, hydraulics, money management, WHS policies and procedures, safe driving, welding fabrication and electrical.
“The growing popularity shows there’s confidence in the market locally in the manufacturing and resources sectors, and a real need to ensure skills are keeping pace with technology,” says Peter Buttenshaw.
“Years ago, a tradie could have a Certificate III and the rest would be on-the-job learning but now, due to technology in the workplace, employers want tradies who have a more diverse skillset, not just manual machinery skills.
“You look at mining; robotics and automation are a huge part of that and in the steel sector, a lot of product lines are run by robots. Part of the skillset of the modern tradie is to fault-find and diagnose any problems with automation.”
The course is proving popular with employers, such as BlueScope Steel’s Maintenance Improvement Manager Peter O’Brien, who says: “Safety is our number one priority at BlueScope - it’s fundamental to the way we approach our business and apprenticeships.
“TAFE NSW has taken this on board, ensuring the apprentices we host get off on the right foot, with an emphasis on safety at all times. We’ve developed a strong relationship with TAFE NSW and as a result they have a good understanding of our requirements. The apprentices understand the importance of working safely when they come on site.
“It also means we’re not putting extra pressure on our own tradespeople to get the apprentices up to that level, they’ve already got some skills and knowledge behind them when they start.”