Remote wool farmers Waldo and Helen Ponder learning welding skills with the TAFE NSW Metal Fabrication Mobile Training Unit.
TAFE NSW is helping drought-affected farmers in western NSW by offering free drought relief courses through its metal fabrication Mobile Training Unit (MTU).
The MTU – or ‘welding truck’ as it’s been dubbed – travels thousands of kilometres each year to rural and remote locations to deliver nationally recognised qualifications in metal fabrication and welding.
Merino wool producers Helen and Waldo Ponder recently took advantage of a free course and completed a Statement of Attainment in Introduction to Welding.
The couple owns an 89,000-acre property 200km north-west of Bourke and have learnt essential skills to fix fencing and repair sheep enclosures on the farm.
“I had never used any of the welding machinery and Waldo is self-taught. Our fathers teach us how to do these sorts of things out here, but we’ve never been taught properly, so to learn from a professional teacher is terrific,” Helen said.
Helen and Waldo were among a group of farmers that travelled to Naree Station near Yantabulla to undertake the free course. The station is owned by Bush Heritage Australia, which hosts the welding truck and provides a central location for remote farmers to camp while they complete the course.
Helen said the welding truck made learning accessible for farmers who have been doing it tough.
“We’re having a good season at the moment but we’ve just come out of a horrific drought and no one has additional funds for training. There are people out here that haven’t had an income for five years,” Helen said.
“When we heard about the welding truck we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by. To be able to learn about the machinery we need to use on the property, and to do that in a supervised environment with a professional who has your back, is so valuable.
“We can’t express how wonderful it feels for someone to come out here and bring this learning to our doorstep.”
Metal fabrication teacher Darryn Blanchard travels with the welding truck to many towns and communities in western NSW including Bourke, Warren, Nyngan, Brewarrina, Dunedoo, Tilba, White Cliffs, Ivanhoe, Menindee, Wilcannia and Tibooburra as well as several large outback stations.
“The farmers understand the value of upskilling their young workers out here, so I get a lot of young people. These courses give them more confidence, improve their self-esteem and work ethic, and teach them important safety techniques and skills to ensure they can use equipment safely,” Mr Blanchard said.
“A lot of the places I’m going there are no TAFE NSW campuses nearby and it would be too hard for people to travel for a course. The welding truck is a great solution.”
Darryn mentors all sorts of students, from high school kids undertaking traineeships and young people just starting their careers to farmers who want to upskill and older people learning new skills.
“I get all ages from 15 right through to 70-odd,” Mr Blanchard said.
“It’s always amazing to see the difference in students from when they start to when they finish. Teaching someone a new skill and watching them gain confidence is a wonderful thing to witness. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about the truck – people really appreciate the opportunities it provides.”
Mr Blanchard said the metal fabrication MTU is an innovative way that TAFE NSW is helping to address skills shortages in rural areas.
“Education is essential out here if you want to create employment and ensure regional people can find work. Young people especially need industry skills in order to get jobs,” he said.
“Sometimes you see a young person pick up the tools and they just have an ability straight away. That’s when we can use our networks to try and match them with local employers to take that skill further. It’s fantastic when you can find those outstanding students and encourage them into a career.”
TAFE NSW offers life-changing training for all ages with hundreds of courses and nationally recognised qualifications. For more information, visit www.tafensw.edu.au or phone 131 601.
Media contact: Terra Sword, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist.