Apprentices all aboard

It is not every apprentice that can brag to his or her mates about working on giant sea-going vessels that are critical to the nation’s defence.

But that is the future awaiting seven people recently employed by BAE Systems at the Australian Marine Complex at Henderson.

The apprentices – aged from 17 to 34 and from diverse backgrounds – are being trained to catch a wave of defence work headed their way courtesy of the Federal Government’s $90bn naval renewal program.

WA, which accounts for about 50 per cent of national shipbuilding production, is expected to snare a valuable piece of the decades-long venture aimed at delivering new fleets of patrol vessels, warfare frigates and submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

A critical part of the renewal is ensuring that existing warships can remain functional until new replacements arrive – which is where the BAE Systems apprentices will get their chance to shine.

Over the next four years, they will work on upgrading and sustaining Australia’s Anzac frigate surface fleet, which is central to the operations of BAE Systems’ Henderson shipyard, fabrication and load-out facility.

HMAS Arunta is the first ship to be docked as part of the $2bn Anzac midlife capability assurance program.

The upgrades include improvements to engines, propulsion, lighting, heating, cooling and communications, air surveillance radar replacement, torpedo self-defence, Nulka enhancements and on-board training.

BAE Systems has been building, upgrading and sustaining the navy’s surface fleet for more than 30 years, but the new apprentices may also work on commercial maritime vessels and a variety of energy and resources projects.

The company aims to take on seven to eight apprentices annually and there was particularly high demand for positions this year – more than 200 people applied for roles including apprenticeships in electrical and boiler making.

“Our investment in local talent is important and reflects our commitment to growing our Henderson business,” says BAE Systems Australia Chief Executive Gabby Costigan.

“The skills that this cohort of trainees gain will be invaluable and the opportunities beyond are endless for these potential leaders in the business.”

Mark Sawyer, BAE Systems’ WA business development manager, says meeting the candidates can often be an emotional experience.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have interviewed every single one of them,” he says.

“Some of these people have written and applied to dozens of companies and they never get an answer – people don’t even bother responding, which is so wrong.

“One young bloke of 18 had been trying for two years. He’d been doing everything he needed to do to get an apprenticeship but nobody got to back to him.”

When BAE Systems responded, he was over the moon and “got a bit teary” as he realised he was going to get a job, Sawyer says.

“There is a whole generation of kids out there, people screaming out for an opportunity, so it behoves us as a business to get involved with the local community. And we do that as much as we can.”

He estimates the company spends about $35 million a year locally in the Henderson supply chain while also being active in local charities.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems’ positive impact on the WA community, has been praised by

Apprenticeship Support Australia.

ASA, which is powered by CCI, has been working with BAE Systems for 20 years, says Apprenticeship Support Australia Manager Lena Constantine says.

“Over that time, they have trained more than 80 apprentices in 13 different trades, making them a truly outstanding employer dedicated to building skills in the local WA workforce,” she says.

►Thinking about bringing an apprentice or trainee into your business? Contact the Apprenticeship Support Australia team today for a FREE Workplace Assessment on 1300 363 831.

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