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More than just a ticket – it’s your future!

Max Cranes recently launched the MAX Academy, designed to address the skills shortages facing the crane sector.

‘More than just a ticket- It’s your future underpins MAX Cranes’ initiative to create and recently launch the MAX Academy – an innovative specialised lifting training provider in mobile crane and rigging applications.

There are a strong number of training providers nationally who provide high- risk tickets in crane operation and rigging. These are generally conducted over a one-week timeframe for each course, with a class size of five or six participants. The industry recognises the high-risk ticket as being the minimum requirement Safe Work Australia has placed on the industry to ensure a competency benchmark of an operator/ rigger. But does it help students become more employable?

Attracting young people to the specialised lifting sector and ensuring those already employed are reaching their full potential are key objectives for the new MAX Academy.

Lou Sapio is the strategy-business & people manager at MAX Cranes and he provided more detail relating to aims and objectives for the academy: “One of the major issues with our industry, and a key reason why industry has been highly supportive of our initiative, is that anybody can go out and get a crane ticket, a rigger’s ticket or a dogman ticket, butit doesn’t make you competent and you won’t necessarily be offered work because you have the tickets. This approach can be risky to any crane business.”

Sapio, a first-class welder by trade who has harnessed his passion for education to develop and build the skills of crane industry workers, has spent the last
20 years working in the employment and skills initiatives sector and believes training should be for people of all ages. He has been working with Mark Kuhn and his staff at MAX for the past three years.

Working with Technical and Further Education (TAFE), private and non- for-profit training and employment organisations, Sapio has been exposed to and supported almost every ‘blue collar’ sector across Australia but knew very little about how specialised the crane sector was and how long it took a person to become an expert in this field. More importantly, how little uptake there was in nationally- recognised qualifications the crane industry considered.

Sapio explains the value of nationally- accredited training after his experience
in supporting oil/gas drilling companies with the Competency Standards for Petroleum and Gas Well Drilling and Well Servicing. Sapio explains this was an outcome from the Queensland coroner after a young man died on a rig from exposure due to his lack of experience, and would hate to see the crane industry only follow this path of nationally-accredited training after a significant incident.

Sapio is passionate about seeing people get the right levels of training and the right knowledge from that training to help set them up for their future careers. While primarily a blue-collar environment, traditional trades are a mainstay of business and connect right through to oil and gas, mining and other industry sectors.

“For me, training isn’t just for, or about, young people. It should be designed for all people within a workforce to reach their full potential,” he said.

“In the past, traineeships and apprenticeships have tended to be designed for the youth, but that’s not the case today, or shouldn’t be. Training should be designed for anyone who wants to develop, up-skill, and cross-skill to reach their potential, regardless of age.”

Joining MAX in 2018, the business was in a growth phase, with an increase in assets and people, plus the decentralisation of depots, providing positives and challenges alike to the business. Primarily, Sapio’s role consisted of supporting Kuhn and
the senior management team with the evolving business and was tasked with implementing development strategies around people.

“The first projects involved understanding what makes people tick in MAX,” Sapio said.

“Crane companies have two things: they have assets and they have people. As we know, the crane industry is a high-risk sector where a lot of people work independently or in small teams, in remote areas, and away from home. This can put enormous stress on the individual.

“Mark Kuhn, the owner of MAX, understood early on just how important
it is to focus on his people. He could see the outcome of a job depended on how an individual or individuals felt on the day, and that this would determine how they perform and the decisions they make at any given moment during the project.”

MAX has always been aware of the need to nurture young people and encourage them into the crane industry; they are the future. On average, it takes between eight and 10 years to gain the necessary experience in this sector. MAX developed its own internal trainee program fully funded by the company and, over a 12-year period, MAX has seen no less than 50 trainees complete the program, with over a 90 per cent retention rate to date.

“We researched the most appropriate qualifications and found there were qualifications in Certificate III and Certificate IV in Mobile Crane Operations, funded by the state government in South Australia, but with no training providers in the state to deliver it,” he said.

“Nationally, there were only six training providers we could approach to gain interest and be approved by ASQA and the South Australian state government.

Needless to say, the one we partnered with demonstrated the same values as our business.

“On the back of MAX’s internal training program, MAX had the staff, capabilities and processes to work under the national RTO [registered training organisations] to provide nationally- accredited training for all our staff in Certificate III and Certificate IV Mobile Crane Operations. At the moment, the program is only available to MAX staff.”

Sapio went on to the discuss the aims of objectives for the MAX Academy.

“We worked on this initiative for approximately 14 months before we launched it in early October 2021,” he said.

“Through the MAX Academy, we are providing relevant experience and exposure, enabling individuals to build their confidence, so they can be the best operators and riggers in our industry.

“That is what we set out to do and we have established the first true crane and rigging academy in the country. We can provide an in-house, highly customisable training regime, which meets the business’ needs. If it takes a month to obtain a crane ticket, so be it, but we are not rushing our trainees through one- week courses anymore.”

Sapio explained how the program works for the students.

“Students study and work under supervision for 18 months in the Certificate III qualification and 24 months for Certificate IV. They work under a rigorous internal coaching and mentoring program, under direct supervision, and also utilise a logbook system so they can document their experience and exposure.

“On completion, they are signed off by an independent assessor, who deems them competent. Our objective is to ensure that everyone who comes through the Academy is recognised as attaining national industry standard. Our assessor has 30 year’s experience within the industry, is a SafeWork SA assessor, and has worked with training providers for over 10 years.

“The initial intake for the Academy involved 15 trainees. Some of the students are straight from school and some have come through our Rigging Pre- Apprenticeship program. Some have been in the internal trainee program and some have just finished their time in the internal program, but they signed up because they want the qualifications for themselves.

Our Rigging Pre-Apprenticeship provides individuals who hold rigging and crane tickets, are unemployed or underemployed, an opportunity to gain experience and exposure. Upon successful completion and when they have worked with us long enough, we will determine if they are an employee we want to continue developing. They will then move on to the Certificate III and Certificate IV qualifications. Either way, they are more employable.

On how the program is working for MAX, he explained: “When the program kicked off, we noticed an immediate increase in morale and the culture of the business. MAX understands why we are doing this and the focus and purpose. In this industry, you either become a rigger or operator and you work there for your career, or you progress to become a supervisor or manager; the pathways were not clear.

“MAX has a range of long-term industry employees who are tired of the physical toll of the work and are a little ‘industry worn-out’. The program has enabled this group to step up and become internal subject matter experts, which is a fantastic outcome.

“In our last Staff Profile Report we noticed we are retaining more mature and experienced staff. They are not involved in the technical side of the business but in the training, which means the Academy has created more career pathways for the business. We’ve also seen a marked improvement in what we’ve termed the ‘learning culture’ within the organisation.

“Another significant benefit for our staff in South Australia is that any person who holds a Certificate III or higher qualification [has the] opportunity to access HomeStart Finance through graduate loans, which provides low- deposit loans. For our staff, it’s a huge benefit for them to purchase a property in the regional areas of the Upper Spencer Gulf, where most of our operations are, therefore retaining them in the business and regions longer.”

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