How to at­tract ap­pren­tices... and keep them

Big Rigs - - TECHNOLOGY & MAINTENANCE CONFERENCE - James Gra­ham James.Gra­ham@bi­grigs.com.au

PHOEBE Lind­burg re­mem­bers the day like it was yes­ter­day.

A me­chanic had come to the aid of an in­ca­pac­i­tated truck she’d been driv­ing, and af­ter watch­ing him work she knew in an in­stant that was where her ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions lay.

The only prob­lem was, it took the then 18-year-old an­other seven years to find an em­ployer will­ing to em­brace that pas­sion for en­gines.

On two oc­ca­sions she was of­fered work, but on prin­ci­ple Lind­burg de­clined: both em­ploy­ers in­sisted she sign a clause pre­clud­ing her from tak­ing ma­ter­nity leave.

Re­gret­tably, the ded­i­cated third-year diesel me­chanic ap­pren­tice told del­e­gates at the ATA’s tech­nol­ogy and main­te­nance con­fer­ence in Melbourne, the land­scape isn’t any rosier for new re­cruits to­day.

In re­search­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion, the 2017 Cum­mins South Pa­cific ap­pren­tice schol­ar­ship win­ner re­vealed more than 9000 au­to­mo­tive and engi­neer­ing ap­pren­tices with­draw from their cour­ses each year.

Lind­burg said the alarm­ing dropout rates could be at­trib­uted to three key cat­e­gories: environment, wage and govern­ment in­cen­tives (or lack thereof ).

“Dur­ing my first year at TAFE more than 60 per cent of the stu­dents in my class were sweep­ing floors, pick­ing up parts and clean­ing the work­shop,” Lind­burg said.

She said ap­pren­tices also be­came dis­heart­ened be­cause of bul­ly­ing and called for com­pa­nies to pro­mote anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paigns to pro­tect not only their ap­pren­tices, but ev­ery­one in the work­place.

“It is not enough to sim­ply think that ap­pren­tices should ex­pe­ri­ence the ‘tough life’ of work­ing in the in­dus­try through con­de­scend­ing or dis­crim­i­na­tory re­marks.”

Lind­burg said the in­dus­try also needs to look at ways to pro­vide bet­ter govern­ment in­cen­tives to ap­pren­tices which are not loan-based, and to also en­sure bet­ter pay. Ac­cord­ing to the Fair Work Om­buds­man, she said one in three com­pa­nies are not pay­ing their ap­pren­tices enough.

But above all, Lind­burg be­lieved the most im­por­tant form of sup­port for an ap­pren­tice comes from a men­tor to guide, teach and en­cour­age.

“We need to lead by ex­am­ple and cre­ate in­dus­tries which not only cater to ap­pren­tices, but pro­mote their growth, skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In do­ing this, ev­ery­one suc­ceeds.”

PHOTO: CONTRIBUTED

DRIV­ING CHANGE: Ap­pren­tice Phoebe Lind­burg said it’s time the in­dus­try changed its at­ti­tude.

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