Apprenticeship program key to ongoing industry success

Melissa Tinetti didn’t start out thinking she would be the associate dean of Industry programs at RMIT University. But it’s a fulfilling job that she enjoys and there is plenty to do, with literally hundreds of students to look after.

Tinetti’s first 10 years in the workforce had her utilising her architecture degree before she took time out to start a family.

“As a kid, I was always building things such as treehouses and I was making things with my hands,” she said. “And I did a drawing class at school in Year 9 and from that point on I realised I loved drawing and understanding how things could fit together. I started technical drawing from Year 10, so would have been 15, in a class with all boys. From that point I had a real passion for building and design and I pursued that as a career.”

She returned to the workforce to work in a small practice as a project architect.

However, it wasn’t long before Tinetti thought she would give teaching a go, and secured a role within the Building and Construction faculty at RMIT University.

“I thought that it would be really great to give something back, to an industry that had given me so much,” she said. “I applied for a teaching role in Building and Construction at RMIT University and that is where it all started.”

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Ten years later, Tinetti’s current role at the School of Vocational Engineering, Health & Science at the same university keeps her busy. It was in this role that she was nominated as a Rising Star of the Year at the 2019 Women in Industry Awards.

Tinetti’s role is a big one. She heavily involved in looking after the apprenticeship program at the university, which she describes as a mini-school within the campus, as well as the Cert II, III and IV courses, plus diplomas and advanced diplomas.

Apprenticeships in particular, have been a hot topic recently due to a looming skills shortage. So much so, that at the beginning of August, the Queensland government announced that it was putting aside $32 million to offer free apprenticeships to any person under the age of 21 who had left school. The government was hoping that up to 60,000 young people would take up the offer.

“I find this role challenging. I came to RMIT as a teacher in Building and Construction and while that is my passion and I taught in that program for four years, I needed more of a challenge which I found in a coordinators role,” she said. “That led me onto the program manager’s position. That doesn’t sound like a big role, however there were nearly 700 students and 25 teachers, which was almost a small school within itself. I was part of a strong team that helped to grow it to that size.”

“I managed that program for four years ,and then I found myself looking for something else. This was the next step for me in my career. I have now got a couple of little mini schools if you like, operating their own programs, which is very different for me.”

She does find the role challenging on many levels, from dealing with the numbers of students and all their needs and wants, through to issues such as those being disruptive in class, as well as meeting the expectations of the industries that will be receiving the graduates. As well as electrical, plumbing and carpentry apprentices, she also looks after those in the instrumentation and refrigeration sectors, both of which are relevant to the food and beverage industry.

“We have a lot of students who come through the program and end up working for Woolies and those types of companies that are doing the refrigeration for their outlets, which I think is a pretty big job in itself,” she said. “There a not a lot of them around, which makes it difficult to get teachers in that space, too.”

Although some of the courses could do with a few more students, there is a silver lining for those who are in the apprenticeship program. With some TAFE courses – and a few university ones, too – there is an oversupply of graduates. Engineers, instrumentation specialists and refrigeration electricians don’t fall into those categories. Tinetti gives a recent account of where she thinks the current lie of the land is as far as graduates. It’s good for those who are thinking of going to TAFE over the next couple of years.

“Recently, we were looking at starting a new advanced diploma and needed students to run a pilot program.

“This would have been a pathway for our current students so I thought that filling this would be easy,” she said.

“I thought, ‘I’ll sit down and ring them all and see where they are now that the year is over’. So I sat down one afternoon and rang all 120 of them. Fifty-four per cent of them had decided to pathway into a higher education program. The other 46 per cent had a job already, or were travelling. There was no-one who said, ‘no, I don’t have a job’. I am also lucky enough to work in areas where students can walk into a job and also be able to continue with their studies.

“The students who are doing Cert II don’t have jobs yet, they are doing their pre-apprenticeship,” she said. “If we can encourage these students at this stage to continue with that trade, then we have something to work with. We’ve had some really large numbers of those students come through this year, that will help industry, which is the whole point of free TAFE.”

And the future? Tinetti is positive that industry will be well served by the graduates that are coming through her doors.

“Over the next three or four years I’d like to see our trades program having a footprint that will provide opportunities not only for students, but help industry, too,” she said.