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Paving the way

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For school leavers and young workers, beginning a career path is challenging. When extra help is needed, HIA is here to lend a hand.
Even before a global pandemic disrupted the way we work, many young Australians were finding it increasingly hard to enter a career path. Some from metropolitan cities were struggling, while many in the regional areas had additional challenges to overcome. 
In response, the NSW government allocated $80-million in funds to establish a building industry-focused apprentice and trainee program. Together, the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) and HIA are helping young people get into a career in the residential building industry. 

Liz Barrett

Senior Content Producer
Building brighter futures 

Launched in April 2021, LAHC will run for four years. Brenton Gardner, HIA chief executive business innovation, explains the three components that cover a targeted group of young people. ‘The first is for TAFE NSW to provide carpentry and plumbing pre-vocational training,’ he explains. ‘The second is to train participants to become social housing property managers. And the third project, which HIA is undertaking, is for our Group Training Organisation (HIA Apprentices) to attract, screen, place and complete apprentice and trainees in the building industry.’

NSW Government’s Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey, said, ‘We are proud of this initiative because together, we are creating jobs and launching careers and building homes for those who need them most. In addition, the program is offering cadetships which include a Certificate IV in social housing and 12 months’ employment with a mainstream or Aboriginal community housing provider.'  

The program will target around 185 apprentice employment outcomes from primarily social and community housing backgrounds, Indigenous, women, disabled, regional and rural youth, and other disadvantaged groups. ‘Our target is to complete more than 100 participants,’ says Brenton. ‘So far, we have seen a great response from both apprentice hopefuls and businesses wanting to take on an apprentice. Since the program is nearly fully subscribed, HIA aims at going over this target.’
HIA difference

While there are other programs on offer, HIA recognised the need for a holistic approach. It’s built a dedicated framework for this specific group of apprentices and their hosts.

All participants are provided with wrap-around services to help them get into the industry and learn a trade. The framework includes HIA's new Job Ready course to prepare them for the workplace. Participants benefit from literacy and numeracy support via University of New England's QuickSmart program, financial progression incentives, free HIA membership, and the opportunity to undertake additional training with HIA upon completing their apprenticeship. 

Participants can also access tutoring services if they need further help as they progress through their apprenticeship. The final component involves mentoring. HIA is well equipped in apprentice mentoring, having run several successful programs nationally. The most recent saw more than 3800 mentees access support.

'These services will help apprentices and trainees navigate through the system,’ says Brenton. ‘It gives them every opportunity to succeed. We're not just throwing them into jobs – we're holding their hand all the way through.'

While COVID-19 has disrupted the industry, it's also affected the progression for apprentices. 'We’re making sure that lockdowns have not impacted or financially disadvantaged any of our participants in this program. We’ve been able to support them throughout these uncertain times,’ says Brenton.
Employers (also referred to as hosts) can benefit greatly with significant financial incentives and a dedicated program apprentice team. The team provides this comprehensive framework and assists with all the usual HIA Apprentices advantages, such as vetting the candidates and finding the right fit for your business, hiring, admin and paperwork, performance management and relocation of your apprentice if work falls away.

HIA NSW regional executive director David Bare is pleased the industry has taken up the opportunity. ‘We’ve seen a fantastic response, not just from potential participants in the program but from our members wanting to host an apprentice and support young people through this excellent initiative. I applaud the many who have come forward and are benefiting. I encourage others who are interested to do the same.'

While the program is currently a state-specific initiative in NSW, it may expand beyond our borders. ‘We are currently in negotiations regarding funding a similar program during the next four years in Tasmania,’ says Brendon. ‘And we hope other states will be interested in the future.’
Aspiring apprentices

For many teens, the idea of taking on a trade is a long-held dream, but they can't find a way to break into the industry. When the opportunity came along for three young apprentices, they grabbed it with both hands.
Ron Donovan (right) with his boss and host Bradie Smith
Ron Donovan, 19
Carpenter, Maitland, NSW

A proud Indigenous man and one of 11 siblings, Ron has had an unconventional upbringing. He was just seven years of age when he and his siblings were placed in care. 
'The kids went to DOCS (NSW Department of Communities & Justice), and all the babies went to my aunty,’ he recalls. ‘When we were separated further, my eldest sister fought to get us all back. Eventually, we went back to Mum and Dad. But where I grew up, I watched people do nothing with their lives. I didn't want that, so I have really tried to break away and do better.'
Since then, Ron has not only tried to do better for himself but has also helped his young family. He lives with his partner and their two young children, and cares for his 15-year-old sister. 'My little sister was too much for my aunt, and DOCS planned to take her. When nobody else put their hand up, I took her in.'
When Ron started work, his first job was helping set up concert construction, with high-profile artists such as Taylor Swift performing on these stage. 'I had a pretty good start, but it was only once or twice every month,’ he says. ‘So I started to jump around here and there. I was concreting and waterproofing for a while but couldn't find anything I really wanted to do.'
His saviour was meeting HIA Apprentices field officer Penny Lees. 'She suggested I consider an apprenticeship in carpentry. She gave me a few numbers, and it went from there.'
Ron was paired with Bradie Smith, owner of Modified Constructions, a carpentry business based in Maitland. 'Bradie is awesome. He takes the time to go through the whole process and understands if I don't get it right first go. He doesn't rush me or stress if I make a mistake, and simply shows me how to fix it. He always has the time and patience to help me. That’s why he’s a really good bloke.'
Ron and Penny have regular catch-ups too. 'She helps me out and is there for me if I need anything or if I'm struggling. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for Penny.'
Ron's partner, Taylor Zamora is a beautician who hopes to own her own business in the future. This has spurred Ron on to complete his trade. ‘I would like to open my own business, slowly building it up. My partner wants to open a business, so I would love to build something in our home so she can continue to do what she loves.'
According to Ron, signing up with the LAHC program ‘means a lot – this is my breakthrough’. He explains: ‘I feel I'm getting somewhere and am going places. I wake up every morning excited to go to work and when I come home, I'm proud of what I’ve done for the day. It's life-changing.'
Holli Clementson with her supervisor Matthew Guillaumier (left) and her host, Greg Watts, director of Lifestyle Building & Maintenance
Holli Clementson, 18 
Carpenter, Artarmon, NSW

When the time came to leave school, Holli already knew she wanted to work as a carpenter. With both her parents working in the building industry, it was an easy choice. But like many young women, finding an opportunity wasn't as easy. 

'From a young age, I always picked up tools in that shed,’ recalls Holli. ‘My dad is a builder. My brother is a second-year apprentice, and Mum's a labourer for my dad. My grandfather worked at TAFE in engineering building trades, and my great grandfather was an engineer. So it was inevitable; building is definitely in my blood.'
While Holli could have joined the family business, she wanted to go her own way. Dad is an amazing teacher. I've spent lots of time helping in the family business during weekends and learning from him. My mum, dad and brother already work together. They’re a perfect team, but I wanted to give it a go on my own.'
Going on her own also meant staying in Sydney while her family works on a property in regional Mudgee. But having parents working in the industry has its perks. 'Sometimes I come home from work and call Dad with questions. He always has a solution. If I'm struggling with my TAFE work, he's always there to help me. It's so good to have him around.'
Holli was paired with Greg Watts and his team from Lifestyle Building & Maintenance. 'I don't tend to see Greg very often as he’s involved in managing the business,’ says Holli. ‘My supervisor Matt is always happy to teach me. The whole team is very supportive, and they treat me as an equal. I don't get treated differently just because I'm a female – I love that. Honestly, I can't say enough how much I love that.'

Holli also works with HIA Apprentices field officer John Nagle, who helps her access the program framework and assist outside the workplace. 'I’m extremely lucky to have a field officer like John. He’s so knowledgeable and supportive. There's never been a problem too big or small to solve.'
The program has helped Holli get her foot on the ladder for a career in residential building, one she is grateful for. ‘It’s allowed me to complete my qualification with a recognised and reputable company. Obviously, you have hard times, but having support from John and my workmates makes it easier.'
Seeing homes transformed is what gets Holli up in the mornings. 'It's amazing to be a part of incredible transformations. I've learned a lot of new skills, not just carpentry and site safety, but how to communicate with clients. I love talking to people and seeing the look on their faces when you've completed their renovation.'
Tiara McGrath with her boss and host Greg Lane (left) and colleague Jared Scott from GPL Joinery
Tiara McGrath, 19
Cabinetmaker, Tamworth, NSW 

Growing up, Tiara was so active and ambitious, she became a champion athlete in primary school. But as a teen, she lost her drive. ‘I realised school wasn't really for me,’ she says. ‘I dropped out and working a Coles for three years. It was a good start, but as soon as lockdown hit, things got tough.' 

As customers began taking their frustrations out on the young worker, Tiara struggled. 'It was too much for me to handle, and it went downhill from there.'
Living with her father, brother and sister, Tiara decided to follow in her brother Jayden McGrath and boyfriend, Kye Simpson's footsteps into the building industry. 'My boyfriend is a roofer, and my brother is a carpenter. I've watched them grow, and being paid to get a qualification at the end is a win-win situation.'
When Tiara came across the LAHC program, she contacted HIA Apprentices manager Laurence Antcliff straight away. 'When I spoke to Laurence, I found out the program was looking for females, so I was excited. When I found out there was a role as a cabinetmaker, I knew it was my calling. When I got the job, I was really blown away.'
Laurence has been supporting Tiara along the way. ‘He makes you feel really at ease. You can ask him anything. I feel lucky to have him.' 
Tiara was paired with Greg Lane from GPL Joinery. 'There are challenges, but I'm learning new things every day. I've made a few mistakes, but Greg is patient and helps me do better next time.'
As a child, Tiara was not only sporty but also artistic. This opportunity gave her the chance to revisit her creative aspirations. 'I was always into drawing and painting. I did metalwork and woodwork at school so I love using my hands every day. I’m becoming a bit of a perfectionist.’
Given her creative tendencies, it’s unsurprising Tiara enjoys the conceptual stages the most. 'Greg said eventually he could get me doing all the drawings. I can't wait!'
Tiara McGrath with her boyfriend, roofer Kye Simpson 

More information

Want to give back to the industry by hiring and mentoring new tradies and trainees just like these? Apply to be an apprentice host, register your interest here.