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TAFE apprenticeship program reaches milestone as industry looks to boost employment rates

02 May 2022

A CNH Industrial apprentice training program through Riverina TAFE that turns out dozens of Case IH and New Holland apprentices a year marks its fifth anniversary in 2022, and is helping meet the urgent need for more qualified technicians across the Australian agricultural machinery industry.

Darryl Piper, CNH Industrial's technical training manager for Australia/New Zealand, says the supply of highly qualified apprentices is critical for dealerships, and their customers, and that the training they receive can even help with retention rates, an increasing challenge in smaller rural and regional communities.

"Through my experience, I've learned the key to customer satisfaction is how a customer is treated when they take their machine back for servicing, so to help ensure that experience is the best it can be, dealerships need the best-quality technicians," Darryl said.

"With that in mind, we approached Riverina TAFE about partnering with us to train our apprentices and from there developed a specific program for CNH Industrial apprentices, with trainees now coming to the campus in Wagga from all over NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania."

Dealers send their apprentices to Wagga for three years, at which point they leave TAFE and complete their final year back in the dealership workshop. The program ensures the apprentices are trained on the appropriate machinery – Case IH or New Holland – so they're entirely familiar with the machinery they'll be working on back at their dealership.

"If take the example of a Case IH apprentice, we want them to become experts in the Case IH brand to develop the skillsets we desire and to encourage them to remain with the brand throughout their career. The more they know about Case IH machinery, the more inclined we think they are to stay with the brand, and progress their career in a Case IH dealership," he said.

"They need to know there is a career pathway and they'll always have a job. The ag industry isn't going anywhere and if you're a technician, you'll be able to walk in the door anywhere" - Darryl Piper, CNH Industrial

​Part of the specialisation of the CNH Industrial apprenticeship program is to ensure the trainers have all the knowledge and experience possible around the company's machinery, with TAFE trainers sitting in on CNH product training at the company's Wagga-based national training centre.

"We bring in products from all over Australia, and they remain in Wagga for a number of months at a time so the apprentices are able to get a real feel for and understanding of them," Darryl said.

This year, there are 120 Case IH apprentices and 80 from New Holland enrolled in the TAFE program, but Darryl said the need for machinery technicians was such that they could accommodate more.

"A dealer I was talking to recently, with a number of branches, said they could put on 15 qualified technicians and apprentices immediately if they could find them," he said.

A 2021 CNH Industrial dealer survey that found 97% of respondents had advertised for staff in the period from July 20, 2020, to June 21, 2021, seeking to fill almost 800 positions, but as at July 1 this year, half of the positions remained vacant.

It is an issue CNH Industrial is working to help relieve, with Darryl currently heading a team looking at new initiatives to boost recruitment, as well as employee retention rates. Targeted field day recruitment activities and doing more to encourage school-leavers to think about a career in the industry, Darryl said, were under consideration, with the technology that exists in today's farm machinery an obvious attraction for young people.

"So many of these students just aren't aware of what these machines can do, so we need to tell the story of just how advanced agricultural technology is these days. Once they know the farmer no longer needs to have his hands on the wheel of the tractor – he might be watching something on his phone – you've immediately got their attention. They're just amazed at what our tractors, our combines, our sprayers are capable of today," he said.

The other thing Darryl wants these potentially future machinery technicians to know is that a job within the industry is a job for life, a big selling point considering the job instability around some other previously high-volume employers. 

"They need to know there is a career pathway and they'll always have a job. The ag industry isn't going anywhere and if you're a technician, you'll be able to walk in the door anywhere."

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