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Why instrumentation TAFEs are an attractive option

It won’t come as a shock that instrumentation is not seen as an ‘attractive’ vocation of choice for high school-leavers. Though many 17- and 18-year-olds leave school dreaming of careers as electricians because the pay is favourable and in the future they could run their own businesses and choose their own hours, more often than not teenagers learn about the instrumentation trade as a by-product of entering a joint-electrical and instrumentation course at TAFE.

One such institute is the Skills Institute (formerly TAFE Tasmania) in Tasmania. The Skills Institute’s (TSI) Burnie campus is the only college in Tasmania providing training in the industrial instrumentation field, in the form of Certificate III in Instrumentation and Control (UEENEE31207).

According to staff at TSI, there needs to be more education about the benefits of studying instrumentation at TAFE, in order to attract more students and up-skill the workforce.

TSI teacher, Mitchell Martin, says that TSI worked with approximately 20,000 students in 2009, only 74 of which were training in instrumentation. Of these 74 students, 66 per cent were over the age of 21, which suggests that instrument training is more attractive to individuals who are already entrenched in the workforce.

“Training in instrumentation is normally carried out as part of a dual trade electrical/instrumentation apprenticeship or as a second trade for previously qualified electricians,” Martin told PACE.

According to TSI chief executive officer (CEO), Malcolm White, TSI’s purpose is to provide workforce skills development.

“Of the 20,000 students we worked with in 2009 the great majority underwent training as part of their work and in conjunction with their employer,” he said.

For TSI, and for the industry in general, the broad term ‘electrotechnology’, which is the name given to dual electrical and instrumentation studies, needs to be further explained to prospective apprentices who are interested in honing their skills in the instrumentation realm. Especially since demand for process automation technicians in Australia is growing.

“Industrial process automation will continue to grow and a new generation of skilled technicians is needed now,” said TSI teacher, Martin.

TSI CEO White agrees. “Students should be encouraged to see further study in trades as a real alternative to University,” he said.

Because the demand for instrumentation versus other industrial skills taught at TSI – including automotive, business, construction, food processing, and metals and manufacturing – is relatively low, TSI is the only registered training organisation in Tasmania to offer Certificate III in Instrumentation.

TSI joins the Petersham Instrument School in Sydney, RMIT in Victoria, Challenger TAFE in Western Australia and TAFE South Australia’s Whyalla campus as the only institutes registered to teach Certificate III.

For TSI, companies that employ apprentices need to start sending more of their new staff to instrument school so they can learn more about the industry, learn about different types and brands of instrumentation, and team theory with practical experience.

“As part of the national curriculum for the Certificate III in Instrumentation it is required that students are exposed to (and work with) a wide variety of instrumentation that may vary in age, complexity and functionality,” said TSI teacher Martin.

Martin maintains that TAFE is an attractive option for employers because it exposes students to a wider range of instrumentation than they can sometimes experience at their place of work.

“Even though some students may not have a certain type of instrumentation at their workplace (i.e. pneumatic transmitters and controllers) we are required to provide a level of training to cover this type of instrumentation,” he said.

“The TSI is delivering a national qualification to prepare competent tradespersons to be able to work on both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ breed of instrumentation. The TSI at Burnie has a wide range of pneumatic, electronic and ‘smart’ instrumentation with which to train our students.”

Though some members of the industry still view instrument TAFEs as offering older-style training facilities with antiquated technology, TSI says that its gear moves with the times and is continually upgraded.

TSI is a Statutory Authority governed by an industry-based board of directors and owned by the Government of Tasmania, meaning that each instrumentation facility is technically at the mercy of its state government, along with vendor donations, to provide it with up-to-date equipment.

TSI CEO, White, is confident that the Government of Tasmania provides TSI with the best technology available. “We are constantly updating our training programs and equipment in conjunction with our vendors and clients to ensure we have the best possible training available for our apprentices,” he said.

According to TSI teacher, Martin, instrumentation is a technically-challenging but professionally- and personally-fulfilling career choice.

For Martin, with current water shortages, global warming, pressure on natural resources and other environment pressures, the instrumentation profession will become even more valuable in the next 20 years.

“All industries need to focus on improving technology in terms of measurement and control. As instrumentation technology improves at its current fast pace, we will be able to better monitor and control our processes for improved efficiency and environmental performance,” he said.

“Specialist instrumentation technicians will need to keep pace with the technology to be able to design, install and commission a measurement and control system to suit process requirements.”

For school-leavers, apprentices and mature-age students hoping to get in to instrumentation, Martin offers the following advice.

“Ensure that you have proficient maths skills to handle the theoretical training. Instrumentation is a specialised trade that requires computer literacy, accuracy and attention to detail, an ability to work independently and good written and oral communication skills,” he said.

According to Martin, doing some research will also help your cause. “Look in the weekend papers to see the many job adverts for dual-trade electrical/instrumentation technicians and the salaries that are offered. Investigate the trade by: contacting one of your local manufacturing industries and ask to go on a factory tour to see instrumentation in action; looking up various vendor websites and magazines to see the trends in instrumentation and process control’ and asking yourself if you are keen to work in the trade.”

To contact TSI, use the below details.

The Tasmanian Skills Institute

1300 362 175

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