Australia’s well-publicised battle to develop and retain skilled labour has been consistent, since a Federal Government inquiry into skills shortages in 2002.
Shortages is the automotive sector, specifically mechanical technicians, date as far back as 1994. That said, it’s never been a better time to become an automotive apprentice in Australia.
Backed by the support of the Federal Government’s $1 billion JobTrainer Fund—now extended with over 100,000 additional places announced in the 2021-22 federal budget—an apprenticeship in the road transport sector presents a secure career pathway with consistent wage growth.
Aligning with the JobTrainer package, the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program, supporting apprentices and trainees has been promised a $2.7 billion extension until March 2022, subsiding wages by up to 50 per cent for eligible businesses.
Over the course of the pandemic, the automotive industry, and in particular the truck and road transport sector, has weathered the storm, proving to be virtually recession-proof.
As supply disruptions began in earnest, the road transport industry secured its position as an ‘essential’ service, supporting surging sectors such as online shopping.
As demand for services spiked, securing skilled automotive apprentices and service technicians to keep Australian trucks operational and on the roads also came into sharper focus.
Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) National Service Manager, Brett Stewart, recognises the impact that stimulus measures such as the wage subsidy has in supporting economic recovery, while also encouraging workers to start a career in the workshop.
“The reality for many employers is that there’s a lack of quality applicants, an ageing workforce and an ongoing need to train and upskill existing workers,” he says.
“Apprentice wages should be expected to rise with the continuing wage subsidy, acting as a pull factor to draw in quality applicants from across Australia.
“Once in the workshop, specifically an Isuzu dealership, upskilling and training becomes a common ritual. From online training to keep on top of changing technology, to mentorship under a qualified technician, apprentices and fully qualified technicians are subject to constant education and development throughout their career.”
Tallia Herbertson, a final year apprentice technician at Gilbert & Roach Isuzu, has taken part in Isuzu’s online training courses, which she says is improving her ability to diagnose the trucks that come through the workshop.
“We have a lot of resources to help us diagnose issues with the trucks that come in,” says Tallia. “I want to work towards becoming a master technician in the future and there is a lot of learning to do. You need to continually build up knowledge of the product and the issues, but it’s a great thing to work towards as a career goal.”
Over the border in South Australia, Courtney Hodgson is also earning her stripes as a technician at Mount Gambier Isuzu.
Now in the third year of her apprenticeship, Courtney has always held a keen passion for trucks. But she notes her family and peers expected her to take another path in life, with young women in her area unlikely to take on an apprenticeship.
“At the last workshop I was employed with, the older blokes weren’t really open to the idea of a young woman working there,” she explains. “And before my interview at Mount Gambier Isuzu, my recruitment officer actually said to me, ‘I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. You are a very short, small girl.’”
Told she would never be able to move truck piles or lift the bonnet of a cab, Courtney was advised to go work on cars instead.
“It’s different at Isuzu. I was hired at Mount Gambier very quickly,” she says.
Apprenticeships have traditionally, according to Brett, come with some stigma attached, especially in the automotive sector. He says that employers should consider apprentices as an opportunity to build the business, with real world advantages for both employee and employer.
“Managed right, having an apprentice or trainee on board can be mutually beneficial,” Brett says. “Apprentices gain real world experience and skills development from experts in their field. And for employers, hiring an apprentice is an opportunity to mould your newest talent into a well-rounded employee that is a perfect fit for your business, as they train and learn on the job. At the end of their apprenticeship you have a specifically trained, well-adjusted resource adding genuine value to your operation. You’re also helping to strengthen the automotive industry as a whole. With extensions to government support programs recently announced in the federal budget, there’s never been a better time to act.”