Workers are trading places as virus prompts career shift
SCIENTISTS retraining to be florists, young boat builders travelling to the billionaire playgrounds of the Mediterranean to work on super yachts and diesel fitter repairing driverless trucks.
Welcome to the new world of vocational education in Queensland, a far cry from the sector's traditional image of spanner wielding mechanics in greasy overalls.
Mass job losses sparked by the coronavirus pandemic has meant a surge in enrolments in TAFE courses ranging from information technology and accounting to hairdressing and diesel fitting as people seek to widen their career options.
TAFE Queensland Brisbane general manager Dr Paul Wilson says enrolments are up 48 per cent on last year with the coronavirus pandemic a key factor.
"It's people looking to maintain employment or people who have lost their job and are looking to retrain in a new career," says Wilson. He says there has been a bigger intake in technology and business courses as hospitality and restaurant workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic lockdown look to retrain.
Former clinical scientist Cornelia Strauss decided 2020 was the year she would finally achieve her childhood dream of working with flowers.
"My clinical role was so black and white and whilst I was very good at it, after 16 years I was desperate for some creativity in my working life," says Strauss, who is undertaking a floristry certificate course at TAFE Queensland.
Wilson says Strauss's desire to change careers later in life would ring true for many people. "It's not uncommon for people to regret the career path they chose originally, or to find their career goals or circumstances have suddenly changed," he says.
Wilson says vocational education often provides a quicker entry into jobs that in the long term are better paid and more rewarding than those obtained through university qualifications.
"The old image of TAFE as only offering hard trades is no longer relevant," says Wilson. "We offer para-professional qualifications up to degree levels in areas like pathology and animal science. People are actually coming back to TAFE after completing university to get the practical skills they needed."
TAFE also was preparing for the gig economy with the introduction of micro courses in areas like cyber security and data analysis
At luxury boat builder Riviera, former apprentices who started on the tools as youngsters now swell the ranks of middle management of the Gold Coast-based company.
Riviera safety and training manager Adam Houlahan says that between 300 and 400 young people had gone through the company's apprenticeship program since 1993.
The company's current apprentice intake was 80. "It is a cultural thing within the company in that we teach our apprentices that they are not just getting a piece of paper but a long-term career," says Houlahan.
"We have people who started as apprentices who have been with the company for 20 years. Over the past five years, 90 per cent of our apprentices are still with us."
The boat building apprenticeship covered all the trades necessary to build a luxury Riviera boat including diesel fitting, marine electrical, composite materials, upholstery and cabinet making.
"We rotate them through different areas," he says. "The apprentices are taken through the whole process. For example, the diesel fitters will go out on sea trials when the vessels are completed."
Houlahan says Riviera works closely with the Gold Coast TAFE with the college locating its marine training facilities on the company's land.
One of the perks for the apprentices was a certain amount of international travel to Europe, US and Asia to help with after sales service of the boats. "Apprentices also attend the Sydney boat show which is considered a bit of rite of passage for them," he says.
Hastings Deering learning delivery supervisor Shane Whalley says training of the company's 200 apprentices in trades cover diesel fitting, auto electrical systems and engine reconditioning was constantly changing as technology impacted on the design and operation of heavy vehicles such as bulldozers and mining trucks.
"There is a false image of a diesel fitter being someone with an oily rag," says Whalley, whose company sells and services Caterpillar mining and construction equipment. "But the future will be about automation, electric and hybrid vehicles."
Whalley says apprentices will have to have the skills to work on driverless mining trucks and undertake remote assessment of needed repairs.
He says at the end of their four-year-training, apprentices received a "Cat Passport" allowing them to work in Caterpillar dealerships across the world. "We have had people work in Canada, Africa and the Middle East."
Travel is also on the mind of 19-year-old Ellie Priest, who is in her second year of a three-year cooking apprenticeship at the Novotel Hotel in Brisbane.
Priest says she fell in love with cooking at high school when the chef she now works with visited her hospitality class. "Cooking allows me to express my creativity," Priest says. "I also like to see the smiles on people's faces when you serve them something you have made."
Priest, who eventually wants to specialise as a pastry chef, admits it's not a job for the faint-hearted. "It's tough and the hours take a toll on your family and relationships," she says. "You also are on your feet all day."
The teenager eventually hopes to travel and work through Europe as she is particularly interested in the cuisine of Italy and France.
TAFE's Paul Wilson says that with surging demand for vocational education, there is a need for more financial support for students. TAFE students faced higher entry costs than their university counterparts as many courses required upfront fees. "There needs to be fairer access," Wilson says.
State Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman says the government has provided $32 million to provide free apprenticeships for young people under 21.
Fentiman says this was estimated to allow 60,000 young people to obtain an apprenticeship or traineeship in high demand areas over the next three years. Trades in demand included electrotechnology electrician, carpentry, plumbing, light vehicle mechanical technology and hairdressing.
While some of Queensland's biggest companies - including Hastings Deering, Glencore and BHP Mitsubishi - take in hundreds of apprentices each year, small businesses were also an important employer of trainees.
Mick Shergold, owner of Acacia Ridge-based A Grade Auto Electrics, has been employing apprentices for the past 15 years.
"We still have apprentices with us after 10 years," says Shergold. "I ask them to give back by at least giving me a couple of years of service," he says. Five apprentices from the company were currently attending the nearby TAFE where they undertook regular block training of two weeks.
"The class room training is the best option rather than someone turning up every couple of weeks to teach them on site," he says. "It gives them structure and it sinks in more. It is particularly good if people are struggling. The TAFE teachers are good about staying back and giving extra help."
He says the trade was changing as vehicles became more computerised. "It is still male dominated but we do have one female apprentice at the moment," he says. "It is actually more suited to women as a lot of its involves working with a lap top these days."
Originally published as Queenslanders trading places as virus prompts career shift