Award-winning apprentice a believer in value of skills
When James White was awarded the ACT Apprentice of the Year Award in 2019, he was an apprentice carpenter who believed he might one day start his own carpentry business.
With a passion for building, carpentry and woodworking, he was working towards a Certificate III in Carpentry at CIT while learning on the job with ACTPRO Group.
But in the fast-changing world of work, a lot can change.
Just a year later, James had a new role, a new employer and new goals. What hadn't changed was his belief in the value of continual learning and the skills you pick up along the way.
“My experience is primarily with construction-based apprenticeships, but what I’ve seen there is that those skills I’ve learned tend to be applicable in a lot of different industries,” James said.
Moving on up
By 2020 James had become a site supervisor with ACT Steelworks.
Headhunted from his fully qualified carpentry role at ACTPRO after 4 months, he became responsible for managing a team of six on anything from major structural steel installations, to steel fences, bollards, balustrades and other steelworks.
While the timber structures he previously worked with could support just a couple of tonnes, James graduated to being in the middle of Canberra supervising a crane lifting steel beams that weigh in at nine tonnes - and that will be destined to support a full 200 tonnes of concrete.
“The stuff I’m doing is really enjoyable for me. It’s something different and I never really like to stop learning. When you start working with things like those big steel beams, doing crane work and working on elevated platforms and boom lifts, it makes things really interesting.”
James said his carpentry background and other skills have proved invaluable.
“There’s been some challenges where my carpentry skills have really helped,” James explained. “I tend to get put on the jobs where we’re not quite sure how it will work, or what the outcome should be, the jobs where how we are going to get there requires some thought.”
For example, James made the decision to use timber structures creatively on some jobs to support part of a construction so that work on the site could continue. “There’s been a number of jobs where I’ve had to do that – think outside the box,” he said.
Living to learn
James is a firm believer in the value of learning and skills.
Prior to his apprenticeship, he had already completed a Bachelor of Systems Engineering and a Diploma in Leadership and Management, while getting hands-on experience in the field in maintenance, carpentry and managing people.
This attitude fits right in at ACT Steelworks. Supported by a strong learning culture, James busied himself completing a number of trade tickets that have made him more skilled across his role, including rigging and scaffolding, working in confined spaces and crane driving.
“ACT Steelworks is all about professional development. If we come across a problem we can’t solve, our boss’ mentality is ‘we need training’. We always have people doing courses.
"I’ve also done tickets in excavating machine equipment – like bobcats. I was never actually qualified in those, and I became their primary machine operator as well.”
The past is the future
James considered launching his own carpentry business but opted for ACT Steelworks.
While he still does private carpentry jobs on the weekends, he believes that building and construction project management could be where his role eventually takes him.
He encouraged apprentices or those considering apprenticeships to realise the value of those skills.
“The skills you learn – at least in building and construction – are applicable to a lot of different industries. For example, the skills I bring from carpentry apply in the steel fabrication and fixing industry. Different skills sets can actually be very valuable – bosses like it,” he said.
One of the reasons is by finishing a qualification – and being able to offer the skills that come with it – people immediately make themselves more employable, because they’ve shown they are able to stick it out. James says they’ll also be able to carry that with them into the future.
“The good thing is that once you’ve got a trade it’s yours – no one can take it from you.”
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