A high-tech training hub for apprentice mechanics is helping farmers get back on the paddock faster than ever before.
Three iconic tractor brands – John Deere (Hutcheon and Pearce), Case IH and New Holland (CNH Industrial)– have established a training hub at Wagga Wagga’s TAFE NSW Primary Industries Centre (PIC) to train agriculture mechanical apprentices – the only one of its kind in the world.
"Australia is so renowned for its apprenticeship program that we have had overseas interest,” TAFE NSW Wagga Wagga head of automotive Wayne Sibrey said.
The certificate three in agricultural mechanical technology partnership with John Deere started in 2016 with 12 apprentices.
Last year, Case IH and New Holland jumped on board with 13 respectively and now there are 150 apprentices across the three brands that will grow to up to 400 by 2020.
Mr Sibrey said it had increased productivity of apprentices by up 70 per cent.
“There was a retention problem in the ag industry where they were losing many apprentices after the first 12 months,” he said.
“Now the course has helped instill brand loyalty.”
Another benefit to the tailor-made training program was that the companies were seeing a return on their investments, Mr Sibrey said.
“It usually takes up to 18 months for apprentices to start making companies money, these apprentices are making money after six months,” he said.
The training is product-specific where students undertake a qualification with a strong emphasis on GPS technology and other cutting-edge training.
The students study in six five-day blocks annually and they come from a 1000km radius (NSW and Victoria only).
But TAFE NSW is currently in positive talks with two companies to train apprentices from Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia
As part of their training, students are given real-life scenarios where they diagnose the problem, take it out in the 60 hectare (150 acres) working farm on the campus to test it.
Mr Sibrey said the course ran from February to August to coincide with harvesting so apprentices could be back in the dealer in time for harvest.
“It’s an exciting time in the industry, the technology in agriculture is beyond any other industry with GPS technology and drones that fly over paddocks and pick up dry spots,” he said.
“By 2020 we will have autonomous tractors.”
It comes after the establishment of a specialist agriculture SkillsPoint at TAFE NSW Griffith, which is developing industry-relevant training in line with the latest technology and delivery models to help prevent future skills shortages and ensure Australians are equipped with emerging skills like business finance and risk management, export readiness, data capture and analysis and sustainable practices.
“SkillsPoints are a key component of the NSW Government’s efforts to better link TAFE NSW with industry to ensure our students emerge with the skills needed by employers,” Assistant Minister for skills Adam Marshall said.
“The agribusiness industry is a significant employer and economic generator for regional NSW.
“That’s why the NSW Government has established an Agribusiness SkillsPoint in Griffith, which is working directly with this high-growth industry to ensure it has the skilled workers it needs to continue to thrive.”