Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union



TAFE, tools, training - apprentices speak up

AMWU members Aaron Sawka and Brian Turner know first hand just how much Labor’s promised funding boost to TAFE is needed by apprentices.

They were at work at ACTION buses in Canberra last week when Labor leader Bill Shorten turned up to announce the funding guarantee, welcomed by our union.

Brian and Aaron are typical of the diversity of modern apprentices, reflected in the AMWU’s latest Apprentice Survey.  Brian, 34, recently completed a heavy vehicle mechanic apprenticeship after a decade as a boilermaker-welder, while second-year apprentice Aaron, 19, came straight from school.

Both are relieved to work at a solid union shop where many of the basics are covered.


Glad to be union: Brian Turner (left) and Aaron Sawka.

Aaron said: “When a couple of my mates at TAFE found out we get our tools and uniform provided they said: “Gee, you’re lucky.”  A lot of people at TAFE from smaller firms down the coast don’t have the staff to properly mentor them.

 “We have two mentors on the floor to help us. You can ask the managers if you wish, but if anyone’s a bit shy we have our experienced mechanics, our mentors there. The union keeps us informed about workshop changes too.”

Brian relished the chance to learn a mechanics trade at ACTION and work with his Dad, who recently retired.

 “I’ve never been happier, we had our TAFE fees paid, our overalls supplied along with our tools.  In the small private shops apprentices do it tough, they really need all the help a union can give.”

Both have attended Fyshwick TAFE, but note that classes are often over crowded.

“There’s a staffing struggle, if you’ve got a question you might have to wait half an hour to get it answered. It’s self-paced learning but you need support,” Aaron said. “They’ve got some older equipment that doesn’t directly relate to modern shops. It’s a funding thing.”

Brian: “As an experienced person, I’d find myself mentoring younger ones with classwork I’d previously done but it was a catch-22 because it makes it tough to manage my own studies. 

“Our main teacher was trying to divide time between helping the 30 of us and travelling to the TAFE students at Bombala.”

Both Aaron and Brian disagree with the Abbott Government’s new loan scheme for apprentices.

Brian said: “The new loan scheme gives about $8000 up front but I’ve seen young guys blowing it on a car. It’s a huge problem because they struggle with the wage to make ends meet then find they’re deep in debt too. In years ahead the debt will only grow.”



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  • Senior Lecturer at WSU. Journal of Sociology. Social class, gender, family, education and work. My views are my own.