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Changing Gears

Spencer Parson, Cayless Prior and Morris Sam standing in workshop behind stack of tyres. January 2024 BDmag

A new program instigated by local businesses to address the skills gap in the automotive industry and create pathways for Indigenous employment has achieved remarkable success during its pilot phase.

Spearheaded by Townsville-based Indigenous training organisation, On Common Country (OCC) in collaboration with the Motor Trades Association (MTA) Queensland, the First Nations Work Preparation Program is focused on building employment capacity and job readiness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island job seekers.

The program, which is the first of its kind in the country, was successfully piloted in October last year and is set to accommodate 40 participants over a 12-month period.

OCC Managing Director Noel Gertz said it originated in response to local automotive businesses expressing a need for motor mechanics in Townsville.

“We received funding from the Queensland Government through the Indigenous Workforce and Skills Development Program and are working with three local automotive providers – Mike Carney Toyota, Carmichael Ford, and the AMA Group,” says Noel.

“We worked with the local businesses to create a six-week program designed to provide participants with the required skills to support a sustainable career post-training completion.

“For the first two weeks, participants work with OCC to develop key workforce skills, before commencing four weeks of placement in the automotive industry with our partners.”

Last year’s inaugural intake proved to be highly effective, securing employment opportunities for seven out of the ten participants.

Among them is 25-year-old Morris Sam, who prior to his participation in the program, faced challenges in securing a stable job.

His placement at Mike Carney Toyota enabled him to gain a comprehensive understanding of the automotive industry and resulted in his employment there after completing the program.

Morris Sam in the parts and distribution area at Mike Carney Toyota

“I work in the parts and distribution area,” says Morris, who is also looking to commence his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic this year.

“I did some work in this area during the program for a bit and enjoyed it.

“I was excited and nervous when I got the job after the program, but it’s great.”

In a Nowcast Employment by Region and Occupation report conducted in November 2022, Townsville ranked fourth in the highest regional areas for motor mechanic vacancies.

Rebecca Gravelle, Business Development Manager at Mike Carney Toyota, says this program has been instrumental in addressing the skills shortage in the sector, a challenge she notes is “being felt by everyone.”

“As an industry, we are not able to find enough people that want to be qualified motor mechanics,” says Rebecca. “So, we really see this program being of benefit to not only the participants but the wider industry.

“During their placements, they had the opportunity to rotate through various sections, from car detailing to parts and distribution, which provided them with an insight into all the different aspects that contribute to the overall functioning of the industry.

“It is so great to see young people who are passionate and are willing to learn and work, and we’re really looking forward to the next intake. It’s a great program to be part of.”

The second intake is scheduled for late January, and thanks to the success so far, Noel says they’re now eager to explore possibilities to replicate it in other vital industries in Townsville.

“There are lots of big projects happening in different industries this year,” says Noel. “And we need the skills and the workforce to be able to support that and meet the demand.

“We have three intakes left and as part of this we’re looking to get others within the automotive industry on board and also explore ways we can expand into other areas.

“We have an underutilised workforce, and programs like this are essential to support Indigenous employment and address the skills shortage in the region.”


Main image: 
Spencer Parson, Cayless Pryor and Morris Sam.

Image credits: Hello Muse Photography.

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Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She spent time studying in New York City where she was trained by some of the world's leading journalists at The School of the New York Times.
Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She spent time studying in New York City where she was trained by some of the world's leading journalists at The School of the New York Times.