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14 October 2022

By Eamonn Ryan

The following is an Australian initiative, which nonetheless could have great applicability to South Africa:

Victoria University

The unique initiative involves a large self-contained truck rolling up to local high schools across the region and setting up to 12 separate interactive booths, each one dedicated to a particular trade area.

Students come out of class in groups of 25 and spend time at each of the displays that are staffed by local tradespeople, apprentices and TAFE (technical and further education) teachers who all volunteer their time to be involved.

Geoff Burton is the Try a Trade Project Manager and the driving force behind the initiative — the man behind the wheel of the truck, setting the stands up in the school gymnasium, and watching students get engaged first hand.

“We have reached 10,000 kids over the past two years and they just absolutely love it,” he says. “It is often the catalyst to change their lives. It’s about opening their minds to a trade career they might not have even considered before.”

“It is a hands-on event and allows the students to have a direct interaction with experienced tradespeople,” explains Regional Industry Career Adviser for Central West Group Apprentices, Mr John Chivers, who also helps coordinate the events. “To talk to these tradespeople about what they do directly.”

Mr Burton agrees: “I say to the volunteers to keep it simple. Talk to them about how they got into your career, why they like it, and how much they earn. If you start getting technical, kids will just tune out.”

“And the key part is the students create projects that they can take away with them.”

“They respond because they are not being talked at by a bureaucrat or careers advisor in a large-group situation, but instead having close contact with someone who actually works as a bricklayer or gyprocker.”

The projects might include anything from changing disk brake pads (Automotive), making a candleholder or using a scroll saw (Carpentry), to potting and budding plants (Horticulture).

Try a Trade is now in its second full year of operation, with about 50 Western region high schools hosting the road shows this year.

“It is empowering for these kids,” said Mr Chivers. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from students, parents and teachers alike.”

Mr Burton says that he has school principals and teachers coming up to him and patting him on the back with every school he visits.

“I’ve had teachers warn me about particular students with serious behavioural problems they have trouble with on the daily basis, who can’t focus and refuse to commit to anything. And they simply can’t believe the change once we take them through.”

The key target are students in Years 10 and 11, with the objective of getting them to enrol in a VET program and advise them regarding HSC subject selection.

“We need to engage young people with local industry, especially in rural areas,” said Mr Burton.

“It’s about addressing the skills shortage, drumming up local connections and giving students a taste of opportunities available in the trade world.”

Try a Trade recently won the NSW Group training Innovation/Best Practice Award and with assistance from the NSW Department of Education the event has also reached a number of additional locations outside the central west region.

“We are raising awareness and there is real push for us to expand and take it national.”

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