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Engineering Our Lives at NMIT

23 May 2007

When we fly off for our hard-earned holiday or business trip, how many of us think about the sophisticated machinery of the aeroplane we're flying in? Indeed, what about when we're driving around in our cars or carrying our bags of shopping from the local supermarket?

The highly-skilled engineering behind our 21st century machines and belongings is something most people take for granted. Or don't ever think about.

Since the Industrial Revolution, engineering has been absolutely fundamental to our lives; without it, we wouldn't enjoy all the modern conveniences we have.

And second-year fitting and machining apprentice at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT), Thurston Kent, 22, was just as ignorant about engineering like most of us when he embarked on a 13-week pre-apprenticeship in the trade in July 2005.

But without knowing what else to do after abandoning diploma studies in computer games design because he realised his teenage passion was a dream that was very difficult to make a living out of, Thurston, of Ashburton, opted to take up the trade to see what it was really all about.

'I didn't know what it was or what was involved, but after my parents suggested it - we had family friends who worked in the trade - I decided that I may as well go for it as I wasn't doing much else,' Thurston said.

Initially, before enrolling, Thurston visited NMIT's Heidelberg campus and discussed the trade with Program Coordinator Graeme Elms.

'That discussion got me interested, and even when I started the pre-app, I didn't really have a clear understanding of what was involved.'

That didn't last long, and after a short time, Thurston understood and started to really enjoy it.

The four-day-a-week, full-time pre-app from 8am-4.45pm Monday to Thursday provided Thurston with hands-on experience with NMIT's modern engineering equipment and he 'got into it quickly and decided that's where I wanted to be.'

Just before he completed the pre-app, he had obtained an apprenticeship with a Thomastown company, Gear Design & Service in September 2005.

Thurston is studying Certificate III in Fitting & Machining (Mechanical Trades) one day a week at NMIT and working on the job four days a week and will do so for three years as part of a four-year apprenticeship. The job involves making the parts and components for many of the machines used in our daily lives. (The fourth year of the apprenticeship is on the job full-time.)

'The pre-app was fantastic as I went into the apprenticeship with confidence and ability and knew exactly what I was getting into. I also got credits for subjects in my apprenticeship.'

For his job, Thurston works with a range of different materials such as steel, aluminium, cast iron, stainless steel and plastic as well as other specialist materials. He has to interpret technical drawings in the most minute details.

'It's quite hard and you have to have a good brain as there's maths involved and considerable trigonometry with very fine tolerances such as .01mm. If you're outside that and make a mistake, you've wasted the material as well as money and the job will be late and the customer grumpy.'

Thurston added he was continually learning new things every day and while there were repetitive skills involved, you developed your skills each time you worked. And at the end of the day, you could see the product you had made, and that was 'a really satisfying feeling.'

He added that as a person who was 'technically minded, working with computerised machinery was something I picked up quickly but had just never thought about before. I'm really happy doing what I'm doing and there are heaps of jobs so I've got a pretty secure future.'

NMIT Program Coordinator Graeme Elms said 15 years ago, the trade was considered 'reasonable' but dirty, but now, so many of the high technology workplaces were clean, even spotless.

'It's a highly skilled area that's currently experiencing a big skill shortage with lots of job opportunities. Everything in our lives relates back to engineering in some shape or form, just people don't think about it.'

NMIT will run a new pre-apprenticeship course starting on Monday 16 July. Inquiries: (03) 9269-1200

Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on 03 9269 1579, 0413 483 182 or

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) – Situated on six campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne’s north plus a regional campus at Ararat, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce.  NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.