From installing state-of-the-art robotics at Australia’s oldest brewery, to wiring up lifesaving fire-fighting systems, and keeping the conveyors running at sawmills and chocolate factories, the apprentices at Frontline Electrical certainly live up to the company’s name in their work at the leading edge of electrical innovation.
“After six years I still get excited getting up each morning, wondering what the day will bring,” says Shaun Halley, whose four-year apprenticeship took him to some of Tasmania’s most progressive industrial projects before he became a fully-qualified electrician in 2019.
As the Federal Government begins to roll out a $1.5 billion package to support an estimated 270,000 new apprentices and trainees, Frontline is ramping up its own job-starter program to take on at least three new apprentices each year.
“We’ve had over 20 apprentices with us since 2009, and our program continues to attract dedicated employees who get hands-on mentoring from some of the best electricians in the business – and quickly learn which aspects of the job most suit them,” says Frontline Project Manager Jason Bryan.
For Shaun, learning on the job has given him “a lifelong interest” in the electrical instrumentation and programming that drive the state-of-the-art automation in today’s smart factories.
After joining Frontline through a NECA Group training scheme in 2015, Shaun spent most of his first two years working at Cadburys in Claremont, before moving to the Cascade Brewery and Porta Mouldings’ new sawmill in Bridgewater – where he’s helped to develop program logic controllers for some of Tasmania’s most sophisticated conveyor and safety systems.
And all along, there’ve been opportunities for the 26-year-old to learn and be mentored by some of the best electricians in the trade.
“At Cascade, Matt Cox taught me about how these robotic systems work, and gave me opportunities to do things a normal apprentice would never do – programming logic controls and SCADA systems for tracking power processes and optimising efficiencies,” says Shaun.
“I wouldn’t have been able to develop the controls for this new sawmill without all the extra training and knowledge I received from our senior electricians.”
Sharing the knowledge
Over the past six months, Shaun has had a chance to pass on his own accumulated wisdom to one of Frontline’s newest apprentices, 19-year-old Kevin Perez, who joined the business in December.
“Kevin’s still fresh but he’s keen as mustard,” says Shaun. “He’s moved quickly from doing cable runs to learning about programming and controls. When I started showing him the PLCs at Porta and explaining how everything worked, he was super-excited, asking lots of questions. It was so good to see his eyes light up – he’s certainly got the bug!”
It’s no real surprise to find Kevin in the electrical trade, where his beloved father Dante has had a lifelong career. “Dad started as an apprentice at 18 like me,” says Kevin. “When we moved to Australia he was working around the country with Transfield, but he wanted to be closer to the family so, 12 years ago, he joined TasNetworks where he still works today.
“I knew I wanted to be an electrician when I was in Grade 6. After high school I went to Claremont College to do a Certificate in Electrotechnology – but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the tools.”
Kevin landed his apprenticeship with Frontline late last year through the Tasmanian Building Group. “I think Jason Bryan and Martin Jackson saw how keen I was,” he says. “I told them about my dad and they were very interested to hear about that – in fact, a couple of the other Frontline guys know my dad from other projects.”
For Shaun, the collaborative spirit of the Frontline team is a constant drawcard. “All the people here are really friendly and approachable, and you can always ask the senior electricians any questions,” he says. “The managers give you the responsibility and the freedom to look after your work – but they’re only ever a phone call away if you need them.”
The same is true of most of the clients, with whom the company has built strong relationships over the years. “It’s important to have a regular dialogue with the equipment operators, as they’re the ones who know what issues need to be addressed,” says Shaun. “Plus of course, it’s great to see their reactions when you help them solve those issues!”
Strict safety standards
As a signatory of Tasmania’s Occupational Licensing Code of Practice, Frontline adheres to the strictest standards of supervision and safety, while recognising the importance of coaching and mentoring apprentices in a variety of workplaces.
“Live electricity can be deadly and the safety of our apprentices always comes first,” explains Jason Bryan. “We maintain the highest levels of one-on-one supervision and risk assessment, and provide all apprentices with detailed safety training – as well as pairing them with experienced electricians who we know will be positive role models.”
For some, the positivity of these mentors is guaranteed to reap rewards – if not a lifelong career at the frontline of electrical practice.
“This is my career now, and I’m not going anywhere,” says Kevin. “In three-and-a-half years, I’ll be a fully qualified electrician. I’ve worked at Cadburys, the Tasmanian Tonic Company, and next up is TasPorts at Selfs Point. I’m pretty keen to get to that job and see how it all works.
“Developing a fire-fighting system for the biggest fuel wharf in Tasmania? I don’t reckon you can get a much more important job than that!”
(Top photo: Shaun with Citywide Director Andrea Waters on site at Port Mouldings Sawmill Expansion site works)