VET apprenticeships open doors to opportunity in a wide range of industries—but getting one can be a challenge. We asked five VET apprentices how they scored their big break—and what advice they can share.
It took 50 applications, 30 first-round interviews and 20 second-round interviews for Newcastle-based Phoebe to secure her fee-free apprenticeship. She credits encouragement from her father for keeping her focused and positive. “Dad kept on sending me opportunities and kept encouraging me to apply—he said, 'Keep applying, you’ll get one',” she says.
The 20-year-old is now employed as a first-year apprentice with the Hunter Valley Training Company and hosted to Liebherr Australia, where she helps fix diggers and trucks in the earth moving and mining industry. Her qualification is a Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician.
“I’ve always wanted to be an electrician,” says Phoebe. “I like pulling things apart to see how they work, fixing things and putting them back together,” she says. “Some of my friends went to university, but I chose VET. It was the right pathway for me.”
In May 2019, Phoebe received the Milton Morris Encouragement Award at the HVTC Excellence Awards.
“From what I’ve seen, employers want apprentices to be ready and willing to learn and work hard.” Phoebe got her start by enrolling in a 10-month pre-apprenticeship program in 2018. This gave her valuable experience and credit towards her course. “I think being in the accelerated electrical program helped,” she says. “I did my research on the company and in the interview, I felt comfortable and able to do my best—was still nervous though!”
For 23-year-old Min Mesk, a work experience stint at a local restaurant in Year 10 led to the offer of a chef’s apprenticeship. The Port Stephens-based VET graduate hasn’t looked back since.
Since completing her Certificate III in Hospitality (Commercial Cookery), Min has travelled the world and worked as a sous-chef overseas. Now back from a two-year stint in the UK, she reflects on those early years. A first-year apprentice at 15, it was hard at times to see her friends do ‘normal’ teenage things while she went to work.
“Something I always had to remind myself was that I have an insane amount of love and passion for food and the industry,” says Min. “Seeing the look on people’s faces or hearing the praise would really motivate me to push harder, work smarter and be the best I can be.”
“It’s about finding the place that suits you best—the style of food you want to be creating, the hours, the travel. You really should know what you want before just applying everywhere.”
“Take everything in, say yes, work hard, taste everything and, most importantly, ask questions. When I was a sous chef trialling other chefs, I could pick the ones who wanted it and those who just needed a job. It all came down to whether they asked questions or not.”
Being in the right place at the right time can be an important factor in securing an apprenticeship. Grit and perseverance help, too.
After finishing his HSC in 2012, Blake spent months doing unpaid work experience and casual work with his dad, a diesel mechanic, in his pursuit of a heavy vehicle motor/plant mechanic apprenticeship.
“I didn’t have the experience I needed,” he explains. “Out of the work experience, I got a written reference from my employer, and it was a really good one.”
At 19 years of age, Blake hand-delivered his CV to six or seven employers in his local area. Through these interactions, he learned that many apprentices are placed through a group training organisation (GTO), which employ apprentices and then place them with a host employer. Blake approached one, underwent an interview and basic language and numeracy assessment and then, three days later, “I was offered an apprenticeship,” says the now 27-year-old. “The first offer I couldn’t take because it was too far from home. Soon after I was offered one closer to home. I accepted and started my apprenticeship in January 2013.”
Blake finished his Certificate III in Mobile Plant Technology in 2016 and is now working as a plant mechanic with Exact Plant Repairs.
Although Blake scored his apprenticeship through a GTO, he still believes approaching employers directly was a good move. “You have to go into it with the right attitude,” he says. “Face-to-face is better than email or over the phone. Walk into your prospective employer with your resume, and show them a great attitude and keenness.”
“First impressions mean a lot. You need energy and drive if you are going to succeed in an apprenticeship and as a tradesperson. You need to listen and learn from what people say to you.”
It took five applications for Louise Azzopardi to secure her heavy vehicle mechanical apprenticeship. It was with the same company where she’d done work experience, and Louise believes this played a big part in getting her over the line.
“I applied for the position online with my resume and cover letter,” says the 23-year-old, who completed her Certificate III in Heavy Commercial Vehicle Mechanical Technology apprenticeship in 2016 and is now herself a trainer and assessor in the field. “I then got called in for a one-on-one interview, where I completed an aptitude test beforehand. In the interview, I was asked a lot of, ‘If this happened what would you do?’ type questions. I was also asked to explain a mechanical part. Doing work experience definitely helped as the workplace already knew how I worked.”
In her initial search, Louise tried a mix of things: she looked online, attended apprenticeship expos and approached some employer workshops in person. “Big companies usually recruit at expos and small companies like people to approach them,” she says. When a rejection letter would come through, Louise would console herself by saying she was “just waiting for the one that fits right”.
“Ask to do work experience. Then if you like it, see if there is a position at the end of the time. Do practice aptitude tests. Dress appropriately for the work environment — in a workshop environment, wear closed-in practical shoes, neat pants and a comfortable, neat shirt.”
And to make a good impression in your first week in your apprenticeship? “Ask heaps of questions and offer to do the tasks you are comfortable with.”
For Kristjan Blacka, giving himself permission to pursue an apprenticeship was almost as big a challenge as securing one. Based on the NSW South Coast, Kris had spent much of his early career in childcare—something family and friends deemed a more suitable pursuit.
“I’d done a Bachelor of General Education Studies and a Diploma in Early Childcare, but I wasn’t happy,” says the 37-year-old. “I had always wanted to do something more hands-on and mechanically minded.”
Fed up with being miserable and stuck in a job that “everyone else thought I should have”, Kris took the leap. He enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship course in vehicle maintenance and repair, and began applying for apprenticeship positions. “I lost count of how many mechanical-based apprenticeships I applied for. Most of the time I didn’t even get call backs or anything,” he says, “I’d all but given up hope.”
Then Kris’s teacher mentioned that group training organisation HVTC was looking for candidates for a fitter/machinist with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). “It wasn’t the exact position I wanted, but I was definitely still interested and so put my best foot forward,” he says. “It’s lead me to not just having a job with ANTSO, but a career!”
In 2014, aged 32, Kris started his Certificate III in Engineering—Mechanical Trade. The apprenticeship has since led to other opportunities, with Kris now working as a computerised maintenance management system support officer for ANSTO. “Without the trade knowledge and attention to detail I gained from my apprenticeship, I wouldn’t be able to do my current job as well as I do now,” he says.
“Always be yourself and don’t give up on your dreams. If you can, enrol in VET courses that will increase your chances of securing that dream apprenticeship as you will learn so much and prove to potential employers that you are keen and interested.”