Penske Australia has joined forces with TAFE NSW to develop a central training hub that provides product-specific training to apprentices working across various businesses within its network.
Located at TAFE NSW’s Wagga Wagga campus – the largest in the Riverina area – the new cutting-edge training hub was more than 12 months in the making.
“We consider this to be an exciting new partnership with TAFE NSW,” said Western Star training manager, Russell Koch. “The program is designed to be highly beneficial for the apprentices and for the companies they work for. The aim is that these apprentices are then able to graduate with a higher level of product understanding and qualifications.”
The first cohort, consisting of nine students, are currently enrolled in the pilot Rising Star Program.
“Some apprentices have come from Sydney, some from the Hunter Valley, some from Wagga and some from the Sunshine Coast,” revealed Koch. “By taking part in the program, they will also become part of a network of apprentices from all around the country, which can help support them through their career.”
Apprentices will undertake three years of training to acquire a Certificate III in Heavy Vehicle Training, comprised of 36 units. “This will be combined with Penske specific training, focused on trucks from across the Western Star brand (including the all-new X-Series) and Detroit’s stable of engines. Apprentices are equipped with a fully functional Western Star prime mover, along with several Detroit engines.”
Koch says TAFE NSW was chosen because of its excellent facilities. “It’s also in a central location, and the staff there have extensive product experience. We can leverage that experience and the passion of the teachers to the products we have here at Penske,” he said.
“Apprentices enrolled in the program come from a lot of businesses within our network. Those businesses have a choice to send their apprentices to our Rising Star Program or to a local program – but there are several advantages of sending an apprentice to this program at TAFE NSW.”
The program provides one central location for apprentices in the Penske network to complete their vocational training. This also means training can be tailored specifically to the products they will be working on.
As Koch explained, “They work on their own product, so it’s all product specific, it’s not a generic product. All our discussions, our practical training and theory components are based on the product. This means that when these apprentices enter their third and fourth years, they’re more job ready and more productive.”
The training is being delivered by TAFE NSW teacher Justin Haddrill, whose background is with Penske. Prior to his current role, he had worked for Penske dealer, Hartwigs Trucks, for 15 years and for Detroit Diesel Australia (now Penske Australia) for two years – and so it was a perfect fit.
He is joined by another heavy vehicle teacher, also from Hartwigs Trucks, named Daryl Rynehart.
“Because I had already worked as a Western Star technician, it’s easy to adapt my training to what these apprentices learn. We have a truck, a facility and have people who already know the product,” explained Haddrill.
He added that the release of the new Western Star X-Series has been the biggest driving force for the program.
“Traditionally workshops would send their apprentices to registered training providers and then they’d have to do product specific training separately. This combines both and has them job ready from day one. They already work for Penske or Penske dealer network, so they’ve already got jobs, but this will upskill them much quicker,” Haddril explained.
“The new X-Series has a whole new electrical architecture, so the training covers that and it covers the release of the new 16 litre engine. So apprentices will learn everything about the new X-Series as well as the legacy models.”
TAFE NSW has its own legacy truck, a Western Star 4900, with Penske supplying training materials and support each time students come into the training hub.
Training is completed in blocks, to better cater to those travelling to TAFE NSW from further afield.
“They’ll fly in and stay here for one to two week blocks; so that will suit interstate people too because it means less travel,” Haddrill said.
According to Haddrill, the Rising Star program is around 40 per cent theory and 60 per cent hands-on training. “That’s where they learn the most. They don’t want to be stuck in a classroom!”
Though the program is only in its infancy, Haddrill says there has already been great feedback from dealers who have apprentices enrolled in the program.
“We plan to accept more interstate people next year, so will open to more apprentices. We’ve already heard from dealer groups who are looking to have apprentices train with us from next year. We’re hoping to have 40 new apprentices come on board, so it will be two first year classes.”
What Haddrill says sets the program apart from traditional training models is that it will hopefully help dealerships involved achieve higher retention rates. “By being able to offer more to the dealers they work for, the apprentices are more likely to stay,” he said.