Grafton cluster students embrace ‘test and try’

In a great result for the Grafton cluster’s first ‘test and try’ course, several students have gone on to enroll in further vocational training.

18 March 2021
High school students learning bricklaying
Image: Pre-apprenticeship construction course at South Grafton High School

Last November, when Novaskill partnered with schools from the Educational Pathways Pilot Program’s (EPPP) Grafton Cluster to stage a fee-free ‘test and try’ training program, they were embarking on something new. For more than 40 years, Novaskill has been assisting people on the North Coast to reach their potential through the provision of quality training, employment and community services. However, Novaskill, which operates as both a Group Training Organisation (GTO) and a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), had never before run a pre-apprenticeship/traineeship course at a school.

To get the Smart and Skilled Construction Pre-Apprenticeship/Traineeship course up and running, Nikola Vercoe, Novaskill’s Sales and Marketing Manager, turned to her EPPP colleagues for help.

“We worked closely with David Youman from the EPPP, as well as Damon McCarthy from Training Services NSW, to run the training on site at South Grafton High School and to find employer opportunities for the students,” says Nikola.

The pre-apprenticeship/traineeship course saw 14 students from Maclean, Grafton, South Grafton and Woolgoolga High Schools successfully complete training in four units of competency in construction over nine days of training and assessment and a further five days of industry learning with an employer.

Working together at South Grafton’s Trade Skills Centre, the students focused on a range of areas, from technology in construction to team work, time management, leadership and planning. Guest speakers from the industry gave students a great understanding of what to expect working in the industry, and the careers development component equipped students with some valuable resume writing and interview skills.

Nikola and Damon turned to their contacts in the local construction industry to broker placement opportunities for the students. One of the employers that Damon brought to the table was the Grafton branch of G.J. Gardner Homes, the privately owned building company founded in Queensland in 1983. Micah Middelbosch, the owner of the Grafton branch, took on six pre-traineeship students, and he wasn’t disappointed.

“All the students were very conscientious and keen to learn, so we took them on as school-based trainees,” says Micah.

The six students from Grafton and South Grafton High Schools are currently enrolled in the Construction Pathways School-Based Traineeship.

“The traineeship gives them an opportunity to trial a range of different trades,” says Micah. “So, we’ve got them doing concreting, carpentry, plastering – basically, they’re getting a good introduction to the construction industry.”

After a slow start to the year due to a particularly wet summer on the North Coast, the G.J. Gardner trainees are now settling into their projects and making the most of the days they spend with their employer.

So, what makes for a successful ‘test and try’ program? We put the question to Nikola in the hope that her experience might benefit other schools looking to take advantage of this great initiative.

“Having spoken to a number of other GTOs, the consensus is that it has a lot to do with how you go about recruiting students,” says Nikola.

“David was an excellent resource for us in that respect. When he talks to his students, he really does a great job of explaining the opportunities, and I think that leads to getting enthusiastic student candidates on board.”

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt about it. With nine of the 14 students going on to further vocational training – two students are doing full-time apprenticeships, while seven are pursuing SBATs – it’s clear that the program’s outcomes owe much to the way it was organised and conducted. In any case, Nikola will soon get the opportunity to test the theory.

“We’ve just secured a further ten places and will run another pre-apprenticeship course with the Educational Pathways Pilot Program in May,” she says. “It should be good”.

  • VET
  • SBAT
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