Mechanical apprentices pivot to keep up with electric vehicles, autonomous tractors

Mechanical apprentices pivot to keep up with electric vehicles, autonomous tractors

A boost of $400,000 for the Motor Trades Association’s (MTA) Training Centre at Cleve on the Eyre Peninsula could help alleviate a state-wide shortage of mechanics by offering an additional 50 apprenticeship places. 

Key points:

  • There are 2,050 skilled motor trade positions vacant in South Australia
  • The Motor Trades Association will upgrade its Cleve training base
  • The training centre began with six apprentices in 2019 and now has 100

The SA government funding will also enable the centre to operate as full-time career hub to encourage school leavers to take up motor trades with the industry adopting new technology as vehicles modernise.

MTA chief executive officer Darrell Jacobs said 50 per cent of SA businesses were short-staffed with about 2,050 skilled positions vacant.

He said the funding would provide state-of-the-art equipment, a new heavy and agriculture-vehicle workshop, and upgrades to classrooms and offices.

The most popular course at the Cleve Training Centre was agricultural mechanical but there was a range of careers on offer including heavy machinery and auto-electrical.

The Motor Trades Association of SA and NT has one regional centre, which is based at Cleve on Eyre Peninsula.(Supplied: Motor Trades Association)

Mr Jacobs said the centre would operate all year for drop-in sessions and interviews to link students and job seekers with work experience, apprenticeships and employment opportunities.

“What that will do for us is to allow us to train significantly more apprentices,” Mr Jacobs said.

“Currently we train just over 100 apprentices through various trades, agricultural, heavy vehicle, light auto electrical and some others.

“We’ve grown the facility from about 2019 when we only had about six apprentices through to up to 100.

“We’d like to get to 150 apprentices to serve the local community. Ultimately, we’d love to double it.”

Retaining regional talent

The MTA had training centres in Adelaide and at Cleve with the country location reducing travel costs for businesses and keeping young people in the regions.

Mr Jacobs said the injection of funding would provide modern equipment to keep apprentices up to date with advances in technology.

“Auto-electrical is a field that’s growing really quickly in automotive, especially around electric vehicles, autonomous tractors, and GPS,” he said.

“You’re seeing an industry that is growing and adapting, a lot of it is now plug-in computers, do diagnostics, write programs.

Apprentices busy working on auto-electrical diagnostics at the Cleve centre.(Supplied: Motor Trades Association)

“The industry is really changing and I think what that will do is hopefully open up the eyes of some more young people and see the immense amount of opportunity for young people.

“The days of probably being in the driveway with Dad in the car and tinkering under the bonnet are limited.

“If you open the bonnet up, underneath there’s a lot more electronics that are controlling the cars.”

Easing skills crisis

Mr Jacobs said it would still be a while before electric vehicles were the majority.

“Currently on the road in Australia today, there are about 110,000 EVs out of 20 million cars so this is not happening overnight but is certainly starting to gain momentum,” he said.

The classrooms are being upgraded.(Supplied: Motor Trades Association)

“Sales this year are up about 300 per cent on electric vehicles so as we see some policies change, as we see big companies like the John Deeres of the world, the Cases, adopting new technology for other countries and Australia.

“This transition is certainly going to happen over the next few years.”

He said in the meantime the centre could contribute to easing the skills crisis.

“Across South Australia, there is a skills crisis. Automotive is about six on the list and I know nationally, we need about 40,000 automotive workers across agriculture, heavy vehicle and light vehicle so we are always looking for more apprentices.”

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