The SuniTAFE Heavy Automotive Department was recognised at the SuniTAFE Swan Hill campus graduation this year to celebrate 20 years since the program was first established.
In 1999, a group of highly motivated and training-driven Swan Hill Heavy Commercial Vehicle employers got together and formed an Industry Advisory. One of their goals as a group was to put forward a request for SuniTAFE to deliver Road Transport Training in Swan Hill. They identified this as a major need in the region, as local apprentices were travelling to Melbourne for heavy vehicle training or even completing apprenticeships that were not relevant to the industry here because it was all that was available locally.
A Rich History of Industry and SuniTAFE Working Together
The Swan Hill Automotive Reference Group was driven by industry including representation from Gary Thompson (The Truck Specialists), Frank Wallace (Pickering Transport Group), Peter Flanagan (Cummins), and Graeme Dickinson (Swan Hill Truck Service). This Group was soon joined by others from various automotive businesses, including Gary Butcher (Automotive Electrical) and Tony Pumpa from the engineering manufacturing sector.
The request for SuniTAFE to deliver Road Transport Training in Swan Hill was met with a groundswell of further support, backed by local business, SuniTAFE, and local members of parliament.
In January 2001, with support and donations of equipment from industry, SuniTAFE began the delivery of Heavy Vehicle Road Transport training with around 20 apprentices from the Swan Hill and Mildura area.
New teachers and trainers were employed to accommodate the increasing number of enrolments and this opened up the opportunity to deliver Agriculture Mechanical and Mobile Equipment training. These new qualifications were embraced by employers from those industries, as proven by apprentice enrolments in 2022 that reached up to 230 students at the Swan Hill Campus. These apprentices are now traveling to Swan Hill, from as far as Leongatha, Casterton and just over the border in NSW.
The industry call for new training facilities at the Swan Hill Campus was answered with government funding and a state of the art facility was constructed. This facilitated further enrolments and signalled the commencements of training delivery for local engineering apprentices that now is seeing enrolment of over 50 local apprentices.
At the SuniTAFE Mildura campus, 2019 marked the first year of delivery of all units across the three Heavy Automotive qualifications and today there are more than 50 enrolments.
Heavy Automotive teacher Mark Hull said the success of Heavy Automotive training is due to not only the members of the Swan Hill Automotive Reference Group but also the hard work of managers at that time, along with all the Heavy Automotive staff from the start to the present. He credits industy involvement and SuniTAFE staff commitment for making it happen,
“The success of heavy auto is largely due to staff heading off on a road trip, cold calling heavy automotive businesses in country Victoria to inform them of the new training option. Some of these jumped at the chance for the country kids to stay in the country and others may have taken a couple of years to choose SuniTAFE as the registered training organisation,” he said.
Having been involved since the beginning, Mark has witnessed many changes to the industry and the courses delivered.
New Technology and Electric Vehicles
“Technology changes all the time, we need to be ahead of these changes. Most of these changes involve the introduction of electronic controls to make vehicles safer for all,” he said.
“We have now ordered electric heavy vehicles that are reasonably new to the heavy auto industry.
Mark hopes the Heavy Automotive Department will continue to grow, with a career in the industry being one that he highly recommends.
Great Industry Career Prospects
“I always enjoyed and still do, the challenge to diagnose and repair faulty vehicles, especially the one that no one else could,” he said.
“It can also attract higher salaries than the light vehicle counterpart for the right technician with the right attitude. Many go into the mining sector and earn the big dollars.
Mark notes also that the industry overall isn’t as male dominated as it once was.
“Females in the heavy automotive trade have grown immensely over the last 10 years with many of them showing the boys the way,” he said.
“One of the first apprentice’s I taught came to work at SuniTAFE as an auto teacher, he is now my Business Manager.
“Another from way back is now up in Mackay running a very successful high-performance workshop, some of his high-profile customers include Toby Price, Brad Gallard and other successful Off Road race teams.
“Many others are managing large workshops in dealerships and workshops of their own, they are now sending apprentice’s to be trained at SuniTAFE because of their own learning experiences.”
Mark was among the Heavy Automotive staff who were presented with the corflute sign recognising the past 20 years on the department on the night of the Swan Hill graduation, which is now on display at the SuniTAFE Swan Hill campus in the heavy automotive department workshop.