THE words skills shortage is on everyone’s lips these days as the community struggles to find enough qualified technicians to run the ever expanding mining and support sector.
Part of the problem can be traced back to the days when school leavers were perhaps discouraged from thinking of a trade as a career but fortunately today that thinking is very much on the wane.
At the headquarters of the country’s mining companies the push is on to kick start their apprenticeship programs.
Coal and Allied operators of three Hunter Valley mines - Mount Thorley Warkworth, Hunter Valley Operations and Bengalla currently have 47 apprentices in training.
These men and women ranging from first to fourth year apprentices are employed as either plant mechanics or electricians by Nova Skill and are hosted by Coal and Allied.
Coal and Allied, apprentice coordinator/master Don Cant said the aim of their apprenticeship program was to train future technicians whether or not they stay in the mining industry.
“But our company also views the program as part of their community commitment – putting something back into the community in which the mine’s operate,” Mr Cant said.
Coal and Allied employment policy is to only employ local apprentices who must live no more than one hours drive from the mines.
“We do this to manage fatigue and to ensure they come from the local community,” Mr Cant said.
Coal and Allied have developed a programs whereby the first year apprentices spend seven months at Muswellbrook TAFE undertaking a mines school program.
They learn basic skills at the mines school and they learn a great deal about work safety, Mr Cant said.
From there they continue their technical studies through Kurri TAFE and do a rotation at the three mines sites covering all the competency skills they require.
If they can’t get the competency skills on the mines site then, for example, the electrical apprentices will do training on domestic electrical work with a local electrician, he said.
When they finish their apprenticeship they are not automatically reemployed by Coal and Allied.
“Once qualified, they can apply to work for the company but that is based solely on merit,” Mr Cant said.
On apprentice selection Mr Cant said the company held information days to educate would-be apprentices about the company’s requirements and about the jobs themselves.
“What we really look for in an apprentice is motivation,” he said.
“We can train a person but we can’t give them motivation that’s the big difference, if they want the apprenticeship only for the money it won’t work out.
“They also need to show they have the ability through their school assessments to handle the work at TAFE. These days we are using more and more computer driven diagnosis on our plant equipment and therefore training continues for all our trades people.”