School traineeship boom in northern NSW

A program that connects schools and local industry is offering a new pathway to work for students.

Image: Focused on a full-time job: Oscar Knight.

Apprentices can be short supply in regional areas, so GJ Gardner, a construction company in Grafton in northern New South Wales, has seized on the chance to work with high school students to teach them new skills.

Ten students from Grafton and South Grafton high schools are completing a school-based traineeship at the company as part of the Educational Pathways Pilot Program.

The program provides extra support for students looking to head down the vocational education and training path, and connects schools to local industry, like GJ Gardner.

Under the scheme, running in 24 schools in northern NSW and south west Sydney, the students get to trial all aspects of the business - plumbing, bricklaying, electrical work, carpentry, painting, plastering and tiling – before deciding whether there is a trade they might like to focus on as an apprentice.

Oscar Knight, 17, one of the GJ Gardner trainees, said he was enjoying the experience.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Oscar said he relished the chance to do hands-on work.

“Every time I go there, I learn something new. I want to get full-time work out of it. Maybe in carpentry. That’s my goal,” he said.

Micah Middelbosch, GJ Gardner managing director, told the SMH there was a shortage of apprentices in the area and the program was an investment in the future supply of tradespeople.

“It’s a long-term project,” he said. “It means these young people can stay in their home town and get a trade licence and find work and that we will have a bigger trade base to draw from in the future.”

The students spend at least one day a week on the job in year 11 and year 12 and a day learning theory towards a Certificate II in construction pathways. The students get paid for their work.

Another benefit of the scheme was in engaging senior students who were not focused on a tertiary education.

South Grafton High School careers advisor Sarah Dewsbury told the SMH the program had given students who were “practical hands-on learners” an opportunity to explore vocational training options.

She said about 70 per cent of South Grafton High students followed a vocational training pathway and 30 per cent went to university.

Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee said he wanted school students to have access to “better advice, real-world experience and employment opportunities, so they can make informed decisions about their futures”.

“As of January, there were 2301 students in school-based apprenticeships and traineeships in NSW, but we know we can do better, which is why I am committed to bringing opportunities like these to students across the state,” he told the SMH.

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