Shakeup to training for apprentice mechanics
Apprentice mechanics from McIntosh & Son are being trained to better use technology in their jobs with the agricultural machinery dealership
FIRST-year mechanic apprentices traditionally went out and bought a toolbox and as many hand tools - sockets, spanners, rachet, ball-pein hammer, pin punches, screw drivers - as they or their family could afford.
Employers provided the specialist tools they would work with under supervision on particular makes and models they were likely to encounter in the workshop bays as they learned on the job.
But times and agricultural machines have changed.
Now, the first thing a first-year agricultural mechanical technology apprentice buys when they are taken on by an agricultural machinery dealership, is a robust laptop or notebook computer.
One tough enough to withstand the jolting, the occasional drop and the heat that comes with field work and operating from a service truck rather than an airconditioned office.
For apprentices joining McIntosh & Son, one of Western Australia's most progressive agricultural dealership networks with its own Registered Training Organisation (RTO) to train apprentices outside of the normal TAFE system, it will be more than a learning aid.
Certainly, apprentices will use their laptop or notebook computer over the next four years as they study to obtain their AUR30420 Certificate III in Agricultural Mechanical Technology and AUR20220 Certificate II in Automotive Air Conditioning Technology formal qualifications.
They will use it too for accessing digital technical reference and service manual libraries maintained by most agricultural machinery manufacturers like New Holland, Miller, Morris, MacDon, Hardi and others that McIntosh & Son is a distributor for.
Plugged into the data link connector of the machines the apprentices will work on, to access onboard diagnostics or live-data streams, their laptop or notebook computer will become an essential tool to help them determine if a problem exists with a machine and how to rectify it.
Ultimately, that first-purchase laptop or notebook computer will become more important and indispensable than any other tool in their second-purchase toolbox - not just throughout their apprenticeship, but right through their career beyond as a qualified technician.
This year McIntosh & Son dealerships have started their first two female apprentices in an intake of 21 first-years intending to become qualified agricultural mechanical technicians.
According to their trainers and service managers, Georgia Dalton, 18, at McIntosh & Son Katanning and Chloe Ludlow, 21, at McIntosh & Son Albany, are already setting high standards among their colleagues.
This year is also a landmark for the dealership group's RTO at the other end of the apprenticeship time scale.
Later this year its first cohort of qualified technicians will graduate after completing their apprenticeships.
McIntosh & Son RTO compliance officer Paul Berghella, who oversees the training program and visits apprentices and their service managers at dealerships throughout the year, explained why the group undertook to train its own apprentices.
"Firstly, we developed our own RTO because we recognised our apprentices were not getting the level of training that we required for our business and to support our customers in the regions, from the TAFE system," Mr Berghella said.
"That was simply because the TAFE system doesn't have the ability to access the product information, knowledge and manufacturer intellectual property that we do as dealers.
"We are in constant contact with what is happening in the industry, with what is being developed - the TAFE system falls behind on that and behind contemporary technology.
"As a dealership group we have our own product experts as well as access to the manufacturers' product experts and that's what is happening here today."
When Farm Weekly visited McIntosh & Son Katanning recently, 19 of the first-year mechanical technology apprentices from across the group were there for an introductory training session on the Miller Nitro self-propelled sprayer.
It was conducted by national training manager Tim Morris from McIntosh Distribution, the national distributor for Miller.
"The second aspect to developing our own RTO was to reinvest back into our own regions," Mr Berghella said.
"This is something McIntosh & Son takes very seriously and have always done and continue to do across the group.
"The whole focus is to open up our business for local young people who are finishing school to offer them real career paths in this industry.
"You can come in and start a career in just about any department - you are getting real work, you earn a real wage, you begin your working life in a community you know and you've got areas to move in."
Mr Berghella said the alternative for many regional school leavers was to move out of home and go to Perth or a regional city to pursue training or further education, often without the prospect of a job at the end of it.
"Planning for what you see here today started some five years ago," he said.
"It took us two years to actually write up the curriculum, the policy and the procedures - everything that goes into an RTO - before we were registered (December 2019)."
Mr Berghella said the first two years of the RTO involved intensive consultation with apprentices and dealership management to ensure training met expectations and to understand how it translated into the workplace.
Out of that continuous improvement program came a concept of utilising the experience and expertise within their own employees and manufacturers, to implement a complementary 'Milestone program' running alongside the apprenticeships.
"We wanted to engage young apprentices the moment that they start with us, because not everybody comes off a farm and knows agriculture," Mr Berghella said.
He said while fundamental units of the nationally-recognised formal training for first-year apprentices dealt with safety, understanding customer needs and communication in the workplace, McIntosh & Son's Milestone program took it further.
"So we have the fundamental training a technician builds their knowledge and experience on, which is the RTO training," he said.
"Then we have our Milestone program as a second pillar, aimed to develop a real knowledge of every piece of machinery they will be exposed to - it covers balers, tractors of all different types, telehandlers, loaders, combine harvesters, spreaders, sprayers, tillage gear, the whole lot.
"We then extended it further, so that these apprentices will be exposed to each of the departments of the dealership as well.
"They'll be exposed to the parts, warranty and sales departments - to give them an understanding of what sort of job their colleagues do and how important each person's role is in the overall day-to-day functioning of a McIntosh & Son dealership.
"They will also attend field days where they get to meet customers and see how we present machinery.
"McIntosh & Son has a large demonstration program each year that we will send our apprentices to - we want to show them how the machines are set up and see how the machines perform in the real world.
"They'll go out with field technicians to do start-ups, giving them more exposure to customers and this gives customers a chance to get to know them."
Mr Berghella said difficulty getting specialist instructors into WA during the COVID-19 pandemic had seen a lot of training material go online, but McIntosh & Son's RTO experience had also resulted in a further training development.
"We've (McIntosh RTO) been asked to use our resources to deliver the fundamental New Holland training and its systems training (for WA)," he said.
"These are the prerequisite training programs that every apprentice needs to do before they can start the more advanced field tech training that they will do with New Holland, for instance.
"So we are now developing a third pillar, if you like, which is the factory training which we hope to introduce for New Holland in 2023."
McIntosh & Son hoped the end result achieved by the three pillars of the RTO coming together will be qualified technicians who have a much broader understanding of its business and a broader understanding of the agriculture industry in general.
"We know our customers will continue to appreciate the benefit of the support they will get from McIntosh & Son," Mr Berghella said.
Training will continue throughout the year at the two registered training centres, McIntosh & Son Wongan Hills and Katanning.
Applicants interested in the 2023 apprenticeship intake can apply anytime between now and October.
- Applications and further information: Go to mcintoshandson.com.au/careers
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