Nurturing the next generation of auto talent

A national automotive group headquartered in Sydney is benefiting from its association with the Educational Pathways Pilot Program (EPPP).

05 March 2021
Image: Gary and Billy working together

A few kilometres down the road from the so-called Meccano Set in south-west Sydney lies another Sydney institution, Peter Warren Automotive. Situated on a sprawling, multi-acre site in Warwick Farm, Peter Warren is home to 16 new car franchises. This year, it’s also home to nine school-based trainees from EPPP schools in the Liverpool, Campbelltown and Cowpasture clusters.

Gary Davenport, Peter Warren’s National Group Training Manager, has worked closely with Suzanne Taylor, the SBAT Mentor for south-west Sydney, as well as Head Teachers - Careers and Careers Advisers at EPPP schools to establish what he describes as a mutually beneficial relationship.

“There’s a big benefit for us, in that we’re getting enthusiastic trainees who are getting a good introduction to our business and our culture,” says Gary.

It’s also a win for students. Trainees, who combine paid work and study at TAFE NSW with their schooling, gain a leg up on the competition. Unlike apprentices who come into Peter Warren fresh from school, school-based trainees already know the business and are ready to hit the ground running. They also have a head start on their apprenticeships, which means they’re closer to becoming fully qualified mechanics.

“It’s just a great feeder program for people that want to pursue a career in the automotive industry,” says Gary.

So, how did nine students from EPPP schools come to land school-based traineeships at Peter Warren this year?

A large part of Gary’s job involves community engagement. As part of that, Gary works with local schools to help them understand the opportunities for students at Peter Warren Automotive. While COVID-19 limited access to schools last year, Gary came up with a novel solution to the problem.

“I created the PWA ‘learning room’ on Zoom. I’d hold sessions with Careers Advisers and SBAT Mentors where I explained what we offer,” says Gary.

The EPPP schools responded enthusiastically, sending students along to half-day inductions at the group’s Macarthur and Warwick Farm sites. The inductions focused heavily on health and safety, and introduced prospective trainees to the Peter Warren business and culture. From there, students participated in a four-day work experience placement supported by their schools. At the conclusion of that placement, the successful trainees were chosen.

So, what does Peter Warren Automotive look for in an aspiring mechanic?

“We’re not looking for automotive skills, we’re looking for attitudes,” says Gary.

“At the end of the work experience placement, we chose people who had the right attitudes and career aspirations.”

Attitude is important for a number of reasons. For one thing, mechanical know-how can be taught. As long as the trainees have an interest in the field – Gary tells us most of the trainees are car enthusiasts – and a good attitude, the skills will come. But a can-do attitude is critical because school-based traineeships place some pretty serious demands on the trainees’ time. Managing school, work and training isn’t easy. That said, Peter Warren is very supportive of the trainees it takes on.

“We run a really comprehensive enrolment process and we work closely with the school to make the traineeship work for the student,” says Gary.

“For example, we organise the day of paid work around the student and their other school and training commitments.”

Similarly, Gary understands that a degree of flexibility is sometimes necessary to allow students to complete their school studies. In fact, he tells the story of a student whose traineeship was interrupted by COVID but who graduated nevertheless and is now a full-time apprentice with the group.

While there’s no doubt that Peter Warren Automotive is benefiting from its association with EPPP schools, talking to Gary leaves us with the distinct impression that students are the big winners here.

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