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Meeting Industry Demands for Caravan Manufacture

19 Mar 2007

For most of his childhood and teenage years, Matthew Thomassen enjoyed travelling around the Victorian and New South Wales countryside with his family in a caravan during school holidays and weekends.

It was an adventurous experience, where Matthew, 23, of North Sunshine, indulged his passion for new vistas and loved waking up in the morning and stepping out to somewhere different.

But while he enjoyed caravan travel, he never used to think about how these 'travelling homes' were built and assembled.

Now, as a second year trainee in Certificate III in Recreational Vehicle Servicing at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE's (NMIT) Epping campus, Matthew is learning first-hand how to build and service a caravan.

The Certificate, also offered in Recreational Vehicle Manufacturing, was introduced as a two-year training program at NMIT in 2001, and more than 80 trainees have completed studies in building and servicing caravans to meet industry demands for new qualified personnel.

Now, NMIT, in consultation with the industry, is exploring the possibility of introducing two other training programs; Certificate II to encourage people to enter the industry and support the apprenticeship program and Certificate IV to enhance training by offering skills and knowledge to existing production workers and supervisory staff.

NMIT instructor Jeff Nocker said the industry was growing and needed qualified staff to meet the need in the workplace.

Traditionally, caravan manufacture operated with mass production where workers had their particular task to complete.

But when NMIT introduced the training program, it changed that practice to one where trainees learnt all the tasks involved in assembling a caravan from the ground up.

'Industry wanted to multiskill workers to try and retain its workers by giving them more interesting and varied work where they could see the end product for their endeavour,' Jeff said.

'The trainees learn skills such as plumbing to put in showers, some electrical application as well as cabinet-making and sheet metal. The base chassis is supplied to NMIT by a manufacturer and the trainees are then involved in building the entire caravan. '

NMIT also offers on site training to workers in regional Victoria, outer Melbourne and even delivered training in Somerset, Tasmania.

At NMIT's Epping campus, trainees attend training one day a week and learn both theory and practice.

For Matthew, it's been just the opportunity he was looking for.

After completing Year 12 and not interested in academic studies at university - 'I am a practical, hands-on person'- Matthew worked in various jobs as a bartender and labourer as well as in landscaping and dispatch before his father saw an advertisement for an apprenticeship in caravan manufacture with a company, Caravan Doctor, in Tullamarine.

'I tried out a lot of jobs but none of them could offer me a good career with stability,' Matthew said. 'The apprenticeship was my lucky break.'

A dedicated and conscientious worker, Matthew said he really enjoyed his work as it involved many different trades and there was so much to learn he never got bored.

'Initially, I was very overwhelmed and surprised by what was involved and how skill specific it all was,' Matthew said.

''I couldn't handle being on a production line, but it's really rewarding to work this way where you see what you've made for someone else and that they appreciate it.

'I can look at the caravan and go, I actually did this. It's terrific.'

Certainly, Matthew said the work was complex and not as simple as he first thought.

'Looking at something, it seems simple, but actually doing it, is quite difficult. But it's also an adventure too in a way.

'I never knew this kind of work was available, but now I'm very comfortable with it and have found a career I enjoy. Now, I want to build my own caravan and travel around Australia in it.'

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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.