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Engineering course creates jobs for students aged 16 to 50

At 50, former Portland policeman Sam Austin has found a new lease of life as an engineering apprentice.
Keppel Prince using a welder

Mr Austin is one of a growing number of students finding work and apprenticeships after completing the South West TAFE Certificate II in Engineering Studies in Portland.

In addition to his 10 years in the police force, Mr Austin has worked on sheep stations and been a chef but says he’s found his calling in engineering.

Now working as a mechanical engineering apprentice with Nuland Contracting in Hamilton, Mr Austin says the pre-apprenticeship course set him in the right direction.

His main work involves building equipment to convert blue gum country back to pasture or to replant blue gums.

“It’s a great job,” Mr Austin said. “It has a bit of everything; fitting and turning, mechanical engineering, all kinds of welding plus I do other things like driving trucks, bulldozers and 500 horsepower tractors.”

He is now about half way through his three-year apprenticeship and Certificate III in Engineering – Mechanical Trade at South West TAFE. 

“I made the decision to do this with an eye to making myself happy and it’s working,” Mr Austin said. “If you follow your heart you tend to end up in a birds-of-a-feather situation and I’m working with a great bunch of guys and I’m making some good friends.”

Mr Austin said the course had provided a good pathway to his apprenticeship. "The certificate II gave me all the tools I needed to get into the engineering environment. It gave me the skills and language that I needed to be able to perform day to day duties. It also gave me the confidence to be able to apply for jobs. The bottom line is I wouldn't have an apprenticeship without doing the Certificate II". 

The latest cohort of graduates was aged 16 to 50 but a previous graduate aged in his 60s also enjoyed taking on a new career challenge.

Near the lower end of the age range, 22-year-old John Barry has picked up work with Fechner Engineering, Precision Engineering and now with WestVic Waste and Recycling where he’s involved with a variety of tasks including cutting steel, building shelves, making frames and sorting metals.

“I’m enjoying it and if I didn’t have this engineering certificate, I don’t think I would have been able to get the work,” he said.

Mr Barry is seeking apprenticeship in engineering after an opportunity in Western Australia fell through because the borders were closed.

Darcy Love Davies says doing the course helped him to get back into good working habits.

Mr Love Davies, 19, from Port Fairy, is doing casual work with a sheet metal company in Warrnambool while looking for an apprenticeship. “The course meant I felt comfortable going into a work setting and knew what to expect,” he said.

“I wasn’t doing much at home and had fallen out of a productive working pattern, so getting back into TAFE helped to retrain my brain and get me back into good habits.

“There was good teacher-student engagement and our teacher Jim Gannon made everything seem so simple.

Mr Gannon said there was strong demand for workers in the engineering field, along with other trades.

“There’s a good rate of people flowing into work from the pre-apprenticeship course,” he said. “At least 75 per cent from our latest course are now employed, and about half have apprenticeships, which is great.”

The South West TAFE engineering pre-apprenticeship course introduces students to the industry and provides hands-on experience.

Mr Gannon said it was a good starting point to learn the basics of fabrication techniques, machining processes, basic welding, robotics, 3D printing and how to safely operate a range of machines and power tools.

“It’s an ideal pathway to working in the engineering industry and gives students a good taste of what it’s about,” he added.

The next course will start in July at the Portland campus. It will run for 15 weeks on Wednesdays-Fridays.

This is a Free TAFE and JobTrainer course, meaning there are no fees or low fees for eligible students.