From next year, Komatsu Australia will roll out nationally its award-winning apprenticeship training scheme, which aims to not only give apprentices the technical training they require, but also essential "life-skills".
Komatsu Australia's Apprentice Development System (ADS) for plant and heavy machinery apprentices set up and piloted with Komatsu's NSW Hunter Valley apprentices during 2009 and 2010, took the runner-up spot in the federal Education Minister's 2009 Awards for Excellence.
The innovative apprenticeship training system is designed to give entrants to the industry not only key trade skills, but also life and personal responsibility skills and awareness.
In its first year alone, it has achieved measurable results with apprentices being six months ahead of their peers doing "traditional" apprenticeships, and set to have a one-year advantage at the completion of their training.
As a result of this success, the scheme will be rolled out nationally from 2011 to all new Komatsu apprentices, said Paul Richardson, Komatsu Australia's national organisational development manager.
"We launched the Hunter Valley pilot scheme in 2009, and it was the response and feedback to that which won us the federal Government award last year," he said.
"We've since refined it somewhat, based on our experiences with our 2009 intake, and made some minor adjustments which are being applied to our Hunter Valley apprentice intake for 2010.
"It's now at the stage where we feel confident about rolling it out nationally, and it will be applied to our 2011 apprentice intake. We'll have more than 30 apprentices around Australia participating in this program next year," said Paul.
"As part of this, we're extending our partnership with TAFE NSW, which helped us develop the pilot program, to now include TAFE Queensland and Western Australia.
"This national rollout will be handled by Komatsu Australia's national organisational development group, the largest part of which incorporates a technical training function."
Overseeing this process will be Ian MacCowan, Komatsu Australia's newly appointed GM for Regional Operations, Supply Chain and Apprentice Development.
In his new role, Ian a 19-year veteran of Komatsu Australia has responsibility for operations, supply chain and apprentice development.
"This new apprentices development role reflects a change in focus at Komatsu to apprentice development as a company, rather than our previous regional or branch focus," he said.
"In the past, most of Komatsu Australia's apprentices training has been through various group training providers, where the apprentices work for Komatsu, but are actually apprenticed to and employed by these providers.
"We are now bringing our apprentices in-house and over the next couple of years we aim to increase that to around 100 new apprentices a year.
"Currently we have a total of 130 apprentices, either employed in-house, or through group training providers. As Paul said, we will put on more than 30 new apprentices next year entirely in-house followed by around 100 new apprentices in 2012, and every year after that," Ian said.
He said that Komatsu had a number of aims with its Apprentice Development Scheme.
"We want to not just train our apprentices, but to give them life skills as well, plus bring higher levels of overall skills and skills development for the industry and we hope also see higher retention levels for us.
"There is another resources boom coming up; with the last one, we found an insatiable demand for skilled mechanics, electricians, boilermakers and the like, to the extent that we had to bring people in from South Africa, the Philippines and other overseas countries.
"Now we want to start training our own people from the very beginning, to develop our own people through our own culture," Ian said.
"In the past, we opted for group training providers as did other employers for various reasons, but now we recognise that if we are to develop people for the future, we need to lift their skill levels. Our customers are also demanding that.
"And even if some of our people do leave us a year or so after finishing their apprenticeships, they will have been thoroughly trained in the Komatsu culture.
"They'll know our equipment extremely well so they will be very valuable to Komatsu customers," he said.
"And while often we find they'll go out chasing the big dollars with the mining and resources companies for a few years, when they want to settle down, they come back to Komatsu to use their skill and expertise, where it is respected, and they'll have had some very very valuable experience that they can pass on to the next generation of apprentices.
"Our customers are delighted with our apprentice program, and there are very strong social benefits for us, the community and our customers," Ian said.