Helping the next gen

It takes a team to build an apprentice from green to go. HOUSING talks to field officers and apprentice managers who explain what it takes to keep their journey a positive one.


Kerryn Ramsey

Field officers for HIA Apprentices have to be jacks of all trades. Apart from hiring and guiding apprentices, they work closely with host trainers, oversee training programs and standards, conduct counselling interviews and ensure disciplinary standards are met. And that’s just a glimpse of a field officer’s busy role.

‘While this position is challenging, it’s very rewarding,’ says Russell Holtham, General Manager Operations of HIA Apprentices, which helps young people get into the industry and qualify as a tradesperson. Here, HIA Apprentices explains its three key positions:

  • Apprentice manager: recruits and manages host trainers and apprentices, as well as achieving operational and performance targets
  • Field officers: recruits and oversees host trainers and apprentices, as well as conducting workplace performance assessments and other duties. Overall, the apprentice manager and field officer manages the apprentice’s apprenticeship on behalf of the host trainer
  • Host trainers: trains and supervises the apprentices on the job, teaching them the practical skills required in the given trade. These skills are in line with the apprentices training plan, which outlines the modules, the time it takes to complete them, and the specific skills to be assessed.

To sum it up, Russell explains: ‘A field officer enables a host trainer to focus on the business and, at the same time, they provide support and mentoring for apprentices in order to help them become the best tradesperson possible.’

Apprentice Manager Newcastle, Laurence Antcliff, (left) and Field Officer Katie Lee making a site visit



Meeting of the minds

One of the reasons why field officers and apprentice managers enjoy their job is the diversity of the work. To find out more, HOUSING speaks to two of HIA’s team members based in the Hunter, Laurence Antcliff and Katie Lee.

Growing up working in the retail and banking industry for many years, Laurence found his calling when he took on a position with HIA in 2013. ‘My father was a plumber and my uncle was a builder so it’s in my blood,’ says Laurence, who’s now Apprentice Manager Newcastle. 

Laurence gives apprentices more confidence and strength of character, which can be rare in this industry. This ranges from answering quick questions on the phone to spending face-to-face time to solve the most stressful, complex issues. ‘When a young apprentice is sweating and working hard onsite, they need resilience,’ he says.

Working closely with Laurence is Katie Lee, a field officer who looks after 55 to 60 apprentices, their host trainers and their supervisors. After working in the plumbing industry for nine years, she took on this position in 2018 and has never looked back. ‘It’s great helping the first-year apprentices put metaphorical tools in place to make them a better tradesperson and watch them excel and grow,’ she says.

Katie’s found that when an apprentice is handed back because a builder no longer has the capacity to continue supporting, she can quickly find another placement. ‘It’s important not to lose time on their training,’ she explains. ‘Solving these problems are really satisfying; apprentices always appreciate getting a job in a hurry.’

Helping host trainers

Engaging an apprentice through HIA’s Group Training Organisation (GTO) enables an employer to focus on their business. ‘HIA’s role is to manage the apprentice’s apprenticeship, allowing the businessperson to concentrate on running and managing their business,’ Russell says. ‘It makes employing an apprentice easy and we are their conduit to HIA.’

HIA handles the recruitment, administration, payroll, superannuation and record keeping of apprentices while managing their trade training. HIA also supports them with their work health and safety requirements. 

As a field officer, Katie works closely with host trainers to make sure apprentices are meeting all their requirements, which can range from completing an exam to dealing with a conflict. ‘We stay in contact with the host and take care of any situation in a prompt, efficient manner,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes it’s just being a sounding board where they can call a spade a spade. Having thick skin in the role is an understatement; that’s something I learned from my days in the plumbing industry!’


Laurence and Katie are always there to give young apprentices confidence and knowledge


Helping apprentices

Transitioning from school to work can be a real challenge for an apprentice. As Russell notes, they have to learn the life skills required to ensure they are ready for work each day. ‘They need confidence to speak up if they don’t understand something or feel unsafe,’ he says. ‘They also have to budget and manage relationships in both their personal and professional life.’ 

One of the key roles for an HIA field officer is providing onsite performance appraisals, after they speak to the host trainer about the apprentice’s performance. ‘The field officer will then address any areas of concern, provide goals for the apprentice to follow, discuss their trade school and any other issues they may be facing,’ Russell says.

Field officers and apprentice managers provide the support and guidance to help apprentices cope with the life changes throughout the transition. Kate explains: ‘It starts at induction. Not only are we here to help them get through, but we have access to plenty of professional resources free of charge. We always want our apprentices to feel needed and important and actually listen to what they say.’

Behind the scenes

HIA Apprentices has been running for more than 30 years now. There are two ways to employ an apprentice. It can be through:

  • A direct indenture where you are the legal employer and responsible for managing and paying the apprentices throughout their apprenticeship. 
  • A Group Training Organisation (GTO) such as HIA Apprentices where they are the legal employer of the apprentice and are responsible for the management of the apprentice’s apprenticeship. This includes payment of wages, super, accrual of leave entitlements and workers’ compensations. 

Although the manger has the overall responsibility of running the GTO, it’s a team effort. All HIA managers have a case load of apprentices and hosts they service. They offer whatever support is needed.

‘Both the apprentice manager and the field officer’s goal is to provide an employment opportunity for apprentices and to see them succeed,’ Russell says. ‘They make it as seamless as possible for a business to take on an apprentice.’ 


Success stories

‘When I was the manager of the SA GTO, I commenced a young man as a first-year carpentry apprentice. I was able to watch as he developed and grew as an individual, both in his trade and as a person. I was even at his graduation from trade school. 

‘He maintained contact with me as he started his journey as a contractor working under another carpenter. About a year after he had completed, he asked if I could meet him onsite. When I pulled up, he came running down to my car. 

‘He was so excited because this was his first job as a stand-alone business. I was so proud of him and was touched that he included me in this amazing moment. That was 15 years ago and he still contacts me when he requires help or information because - as he says - I’m his point of contact within HIA.’

Russell Holtham General Manager Operations HIA Apprentices

‘I had guided one of our apprentices who became the Hunter Apprentice of the Year and a finalist in the Australian Apprentice of the Year. I knew he was something special, and I said, “You’re supervisor material.” I rang a client and said, “I’ve got a superstar for you.” He’s now been working there for eight months and they absolutely love him. He’s got another five months until he goes from apprentice to supervisor but he’s already got the company car and is on a great salary. And he’s just 22 years old.’

Laurence Antcliff Apprentice Manager Newcastle for HIA Apprentices

‘I had an apprentice who was handed back last week and he was so worried. He was from the north coast, so he had to deal with his rent and other bills. Fortunately, one of our hosts offered him a job straight away. He was so grateful and appreciative. It was really heartwarming.’ 

Katie Lee Field Officer for HIA Apprentices


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