C&L, CICA, Features

Embracing the crane trainee program

As the industry faces the challenges of an ageing demographic, Coff City Cranes is proactively closing the generational gap.

As the industry faces the challenges of an ageing demographic, Coff City Cranes is proactively closing the generational gap.

After 15 years of running crane hire businesses for other people, Phil Makinson and his wife Jenny decided to do things for themselves and established Coffs City Cranes in 1999. The business remains family owned and operated to this day.

Operations manager, Emma Makinson, spoke to Cranes and Lifting recently.

“I was working in the construction sector, but I also looked after the safety and commercial paperwork for the family business. In 2012, the business was facing further growth opportunities and in 2013, my sister Sandra, returned from working in the Middle East. She took over the running of accounts, human resources and administration and I manage the allocating, client relations and contract negotiations,” said Makinson.

“By 2013, there was opportunity to expand our capabilities even further and we purchased two 20t Frannas, six months later a MAC 28t and six months after that, a 110t Tadano, Dolly and B Double, HIAB rigid. We purchased a second-hand 20t Franna and these were added to the existing fleet which included a Tadano 25t truck crane, 15t Franna, 50t Tadano truck crane, 20t Humma and 80t Grove,” she said.

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“Today, we work for companies like CPB, Lend Lease and Vision Stream. We work on network tower infrastructure, civil infrastructure, local road works and Pacific Highway upgrade work. There’s also local and general hire work, Australian Rail Track Corporation work, contracts for the RMS, precast and tilt up panel work and all this happens from Ballina down to Port Macquarie,” she said.

For some time, the Makinsons have been aware of the importance of closing the generational gap in both the business and the industry, and they appreciate the value of training younger people in the correct and safe way.

“We knew there was a generational gap in the industry and also in our business. We have a number of employees facing retirement and when jobs become available, we have attracted younger people, but they don’t know our industry. In some cases, they have their tickets through working in the mines, but they don’t have general hire or civil construction experience,” she said.

“When I first came back to the business, I tried to set up an employee traineeship program to upskill our dogmen to get their crane and rigger tickets, but at the time, Coffs Harbour TAFE weren’t prepared to buy the module. We spent six to eight months trying get other companies, existing employees and young people on board, but to no avail.”

“We were approached by a local high school who had students with difficulties who didn’t want to be at school. We decided to take them on, two days a week, for work experience. Then, during last years’ CICA Conference in Melbourne, we were talking about the Crane Traineeship Program and I jumped at it believing it would be the best and right way to train people about the industry,” said Makinson.

Makinson soon learned that other CICA members had already adopted the program.

“Danny Adair mentioned he had people working in the program and I spoke to John March, the vice chair of CICA NSW, who said we needed 14 people signed up to the program before December; this was in October. I said I’d get the required signups and so I rang 15 crane companies and other people I knew. Between us alone, we recruited eight trainees, and with the other numbers generated elsewhere, the program was up and running” she said.

According to Makinson, there are numerous positives to the Traineeship program.

“Traineeships are a great way of combining employment and training to develop someone’s skills leading to a Certified Qualification and ongoing employment and they provide business owners with not only competent and employable candidates, but developed individuals with skills, experience and commitment to the industry,” she said.

“As a partnership between employers, trainees and the Registered Training Organisation, individuals are able to earn money, learn skills and gain accredited qualifications at the same time.

“The program provides companies like ours with the opportunity to give something back to others with the confidence trainees are being taught the right behaviors and are gaining valuable experience in real work and industry environments. Hopefully, this provides a head start and a pathway to a lifelong career in the crane sector,” said Makinson.

The program ensures trainees are taught the latest knowledge and skills from qualified operators, riggers, doggers and associated trades, in the industries with federal government incentives available to assist throughout the course of the traineeship (eligibility criteria applies). Trainees finish with a nationally recognised qualification which will provide a competitive difference in the job market while learning in the workplace.

Since starting the traineeship program, Coff City Cranes has taken on trainees and they haven’t looked back.

“The program is exceeding our expectations. The kids love it, they are doing something they really enjoy, they’re enthusiastic and want to learn. They listen and the program is excellent in terms of learning the ‘right way’ regarding safe work practices. Some of our clients have been apprehensive learning a trainee will be working on their project, especially when it’s complicated like lifting tilt up panels, but after three days the client will be shaking the trainees hand impressed with their contribution and professionalism,” said Makinson.

“It’s also good for the older guys in our crew as they are encouraged to go back to basics as they teach the trainees. We find the senior guys can get a bit complacent when they’ve been doing a certain job a certain way for a long time. When they stop and explain what they are doing and why, it’s a good reminder for them.

“I think it is a very positive process for anyone in our industry. We’ve currently got four trainees in our program. We would have had five, but one was too young to start this year. He’s started his diesel mechanics apprenticeship and starts his crane traineeship next year,” she said.

“We’re happy with the way the program works. We’ve got one trainee who enjoys working in the office on the lift planning and spread sheets. The others are very motivated, and we don’t need to worry about their attitude, and they love the work. At the end of the day, it’s all about managing your employees as individuals. The program is working for us and our trainees are getting hands experience of our industry,” said Makinson.

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