Hittin' the road - Episode 16: Macarthur Building Industry Skills Centre

It allows students to replicate a full-sized house, giving more on-site experience to a real scale instead of small models

The Macarthur Building Industry Skills Centre (MBISC) is a specialist centre, rather than a campus, located at Ingleburn. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still buzz with a great TAFE campus type of vibe.

The main feature of MBISC (easier to call it that) is a huge space the size of an aeroplane hangar where carpentry apprentices construct wooden house frames and roof trusses as part of their training. This area is so vast that several classes were simultaneously in full swing when we visited, each comfortably occupying different parts of the space. There were lots of scaffolding around the edges and rows of construction benches down one side with hand and power tools.

Safety is a very important priority at MBISC and anyone not actually involved in a class is required to remain behind the painted lines on the concrete floor. We stood back and watched a Certificate III Carpentry class assemble a wooden house frame literally from the floor up. These apprentices mostly have full-time jobs with construction companies in the local area (and beyond) so their collective hands-on experience outside of the Centre meant that this wooden frame seemed to come together almost effortlessly. It was like watching people with giant Lego pieces.

Tim Oxley, Head Teacher of Carpentry, explained that the beauty of the MBISC is that it allows students to replicate a full-sized house, giving more on-site experience to a real scale instead of small models. "Although these days most building work is on concrete slabs, rather than on pillars," he said. "It's mostly pre-fab, where the frames are made off-site."

We spoke to Nathan, a second year apprentice who lives in the Southern Highlands and commutes once a week to MBISC. Nathan told us that he originally didn't even see himself learning a trade and was, in fact, thinking of going to university to study sports science. So what got him into carpentry instead?

"I did some labouring work during my gap year and liked it so much I decided that's what I wanted to do," he told us. "It was some landscaping and also some work with my Dad, who's an electrician."

So, no plans of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a sparkie?

"I used to, but I really like the creative side of building and carpentry," he said. "Once I have my builder's licence I'd like to study architecture. A lot of architects have these great ideas but they just don't have the practical knowhow to turn their designs into something real and tangible."

Tim Oxley also told us that the facilities at MBISC inspire a strong sense of teamwork, since the students are often working together in a practical and cooperative way rather than sitting behind individual desks in a classroom. Some students have even formed partnerships with each other and are now running successful businesses together. This is something that Nathan is already thinking about himself, with ultimate plans of having his own business up and running so that he can move on to full-time study. "It's not much fun to be running a new business and studying at the same time," he said. He probably has a point.

All up, MBISC is an amazing facility for giving construction apprentices the valuable practical training that can usually only be acquired from working on actual building sites.