In October, Tracks reported that a pilot program was in the works for shaping to become a qualified trade through the NSW Department of Industry. Now we can report that the first apprentices have been officially enrolled into the program and have begun their training with TAFE.

Harry Fried, Bradley Creary and Alex Crews pictured at The Glass Lab

were recently inducted into the program at the Glass Lab in Tweed Heads, where they’ll be serving their apprenticeships under the guidance of Glass Lab owner Adam Wessell. The move looks set to usher in a new era of professionalism in the surfboard manufacturing industry and will hopefully encourage the next generation to step into the shaping bay and learn the craft.

‘I honestly think it’s a step in the right direction,’ says Wessell, who admits it’s a struggle to find kids who want to enter into the industry and provide depth to an otherwise aging workforce. ‘As an industry we have to become a little more professional and move forward. And to attract the younger generation, we need to be seen as a respected industry.’

And while the three apprentices the Glass Lab has taken on are existing staff members who can see the value in the new qualification, Wessell says that as his business grows he’d love the opportunity to take on more apprentices, and is encouraging other shapers to do the same.

‘Up here on the Gold Coast we’re at a shortage when it comes to quality sanders and glassers. We’re all doing rotations, like stealing people, and it’s pushing the prices up. I’m struggling to get a young laminator or a young sander. I’ve got to physically train all these young kids to take on those roles down the track. So the amount of skills the course is going to provide these kids, even before they get to me, is a massive bonus. They’ve got the opportunity to get their heads around the resin, the understanding of machines, the safety side of it—to come in with that stuff already behind them is a massive step forward. I can imagine it’s opening up the prospect for a lot of younger kids to take on the trade.’

According to Damon McCarthy from Training NSW, interest in the program has been growing since news of it was announced back in October.

‘We’ve had quite a few emails and phone calls from people. There’s three that’re looking at getting signed up in Victoria. There’s been a couple of enquiries around experienced guys wanting to get their skills recognised, not through an apprenticeship pathway, but just getting the qualifications themselves. In terms of one month since the start, it’s pretty positive.’

With the first apprentices now officially on board, Damon believes that more youngsters looking for a career in the surfboard industry will be wanting to follow their lead, but for this to happen the established players in the industry will need to provide them with that opportunity.

‘We’re just hoping that employers would invest time into training their staff and having a recognised training pathway for them, so that they can get their skills up quicker but also have those skills recognised.’

For Adam at Glass Lab, the decision to turn the craft he and so many other shapers have had to learn without recognition into a qualified trade is not about some official piece of paper, but rather about replenishing and reinvigorating the industry.

‘The industry is so dated it needs this injection,’ he says. ‘If it’s a qualified trade we might have a chance.’

For those interested in taking part in the pilot program contact Damon McCarthy at NSW Department of Industry via damon.mccarthy@industry.nsw.gov.au or 0413120173.