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Tomorrow’s Trades & Construction Industry Professionals – Providing Work Experience and Recognition


By Terry Kildea, Senior Project Manager

In a time of global uncertainty, the construction industry continues to provide critical jobs and supporting the state’s growth. Last month’s Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that the construction industry in South Australia is the best performing in the country and that we are the only state or territory with more people employed now than before the pandemic, up 0.9 per cent.

Here at Sarah, we take pride in playing our part in the South Australian economy, not only now but well into the future – by fuelling our state with a skilled construction workforce. Across the state, Sarah’s currently employ approximately 1250 tradesmen per day.

To implement tangible actions to support this, Sarah Constructions are continuously looking at skills development programs. On the Whyalla Secondary College project two initiatives were implemented: a work experience program for local students and an apprentice recognition award.

Whyalla Secondary College Update

Construction of the new $100 million state-of-the-art secondary school in Whyalla is underway to accommodate 1500 students in years 7 to 12. The new school will combine three existing government high schools in the region.

Key features of the school include contemporary STEM focused learning spaces, multi-level outdoor learning and social spaces, a landscaped plaza at ground level, double court gymnasium, expansive sporting fields, courts and a performing arts theatre all of which present the opportunity to be utilised by the community out of school operating hours.

The Whyalla Secondary College project is currently transitioning from the heavy structural stage, with the last major structural item being the community courtyard sawtooth roof nearing completion. The focus from here will be in the internal fitout stage which is in varying levels of completion across the 11 floors within the 5 major buildings. The most advanced floors are currently having carpet and ceiling tiles installed in readiness to commence commissioning, while the least advanced floors are in the partition framing and first fix services stages.

The southern half of the site, which contains the sporting ovals, are in the final stages of preparation to commence turf installation in the near future.

Whyalla Secondary School work experience students on site

Whyalla Student Immersion Program

The work experience program came about as a result of a number of ‘Pathways to Construction’ talks delivered to the Year 10 and 11 students from Edward John Eyre High School (EJEHS). The presentation covered the different roles and pathways into the construction industry, as well as desirable personality traits and skills.

The students were then given a brief on the design of the new Whyalla Secondary College building and a tour around the site. Following that, Year 12 students taking part in the school’s ACEE Year Program (Automotive, Construction, Electrotechnology, and Engineering) undertook work experience one day a week over 9 weeks.

The program provided students with real world experience as they rotated weekly through various trades on site, including Electrical, Hydraulics, Mechanical, Roof & Cladding and Ceilings & Partitions.

The final component of the program, yet to be completed, will see approximately twenty Year 11 ACEE students undertaking a project based learning assignment in Term 2.

Whyalla Apprentice Skills Recognition Award

To recognise, support and reward those already working in the construction industry, an apprentice recognition award was also developed on site. Apprentice nominations and feedback was provided by the Sarah Constructions project team as well as the leading hand from each trade on site.

The criteria for the award included:

  • Onsite performance and workmanship
  • Attitude and collaboration with colleagues
  • WHS and compliance

With generous contributions of prizes from Hilti, the Apprentice Skills Award presentation was a great success. The event brought site personnel together to celebrate the four winners and finished 2020, which was a stressful year for many, in a positive and meaningful way.

Whyalla Secondary School Apprentice Awards 2021

Supporting Future Construction

Both of the development programs delivered successful outcomes. Feedback from both the students and teachers from EJEHS was extremely positive.

Thanks goes to our subcontractors who mentored the students on site, creating a positive learning environment for them. These early interactions and experiences could be the beginnings of long-lasting, fulfilling careers in construction.

It’s also been a fantastic opportunity to develop leadership skills within the Sarah team. The work experience program, for example, was largely driven by our youngest team member Adrian Condello, who was a Sarah graduate at the time.

One of the many benefits of undertaking large scale social infrastructure projects is its ability to bring together stakeholders, whether that be community, lead agency, end users, private or public institutions etc. As a result, the opportunities to undertake these activities, which would largely be seen as extra-curricular to the traditional building process, become readily available. It is a part of this project that I’ve particularly enjoyed, and should Sarah Constructions be presented with the same opportunity in the future it would be exciting to take the underlying ideas developed at Whyalla along with the lessons learnt and expand on them further.

We would like to thank the following subcontractors for their invaluable contribution throughout these programs:
Jordan Plumbing
Westside Mechanical
Sturdie Electrical
SA Construct
Exclusive Commercial Linings

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