January 2011 marked the fiftieth anniversary of AiGTS and its predecessor's in apprentice skills training; a remarkable achievement for a commercial training business. Three owners, a couple of mergers and about 10,000 apprentices make up the fabric of this icon in the training field. REPCO the automotive parts manufacturer and distributor initially commenced operation of the REPCO Apprentice Training Centre in 1961 at Vale Street North Melbourne, Victoria with approximately 40 engineering apprentices; this initiative was the start of a 50 year journey. REPCO were actually well ahead of their time in creating a fulltime off the job training facility to train apprentices under a dual mode whereby in addition to the basic apprenticeship over five years; apprentices were expected to complete a additional technician studies at RMIT in parallel with their apprenticeship studies. The concept was to prepare a workforce that would be ready to step into middle management in the production environment. Later on this model was changed to an accelerated one that allowed apprentices to complete the two - three years of schooling in one and thereby provide additional study time in the remainder of the apprenticeship.
During the late sixties the Centre moved to Carlton and catered for up to one hundred REPCO apprentices; this was further increased in the seventies by another 40 apprentices with the addition of satellite centre at East Bentleigh where production companies Paton Brakes Replacement, Super Seals and REPCO Clutch Company resided, a similar centre was also located at Maidstone at ACL Engine Parts.
During the early eighties Ajax Nettlefold had planned to open their own "off the job" training facilities for their apprentices at Sunshine however, due to development issues the centre was not ready for the planned intake and approached REPCO to train them on their behalf; thus commenced the start of fee for service training.
In 1986 with the Centre moved to the redeveloped REPCO Lorimer building in Church Street Richmond. The Federal Government made a significant contribution of around $1million for the redevelopment of premises on the basis that the Centre provided continuing training for industry in general. The Centre now boasted state of the art equipment and training facilities and was the largest private vocational training centre in the southern hemisphere. Hence the Centre was a premier show piece and became the flagship in terms of first class facilities and the training model i.e. accelerated apprenticeship and industry training industry, for international delegations to visit.
A key client during this period was the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works as they sent all there apprentices to REPCO from 1986 to 1992.
On the 1st March 1989 REPCO sold the Training Centre to the Australian Chamber of Manufactures (ACM) an Employer Association with history that preceded Federation and it became know as the ACM Training Centre for the next nine years. This meant that all the REPCO apprentices now became "fee for service" clients and subsequently did not compulsorily have to send the apprentices to the Centre as they had previously required to do. Also during this period a number of significant events occurred that shaped the future of the business. Firstly ACM created a Board to oversight the management of the Centre and that initiative stills continues today. The Centre hosted and became one the first registered private providers in Victoria which allowed the Centre to deliver accredited courses and issue qualifications as well access to student contact hour funding for delivering accredited training.
One of the first challenges that the Board had to deal with was when the Federal Government decided to remove funding for the Commonwealth Rebate for Fulltime Apprentice Training (CRAFT) worth $3,750 per apprentice in 1992 and this had a huge financial impact by immediately doubling the "off the job" training fee to all companies using the Centre.
At the same time in the early nineties the country went into recession and apprenticeships and employment declined dramatically. The business by necessity broadened its scope by taking on various Government funded programs such as apprenticeship Pre – employment programs, Migrants in the metal industry, Women in non traditional trades a short course for Professional Engineering students. A Youth Employment Scheme (YES) program became the catalyst to commence the Group Training Arm of the Business in 1993 with 50 trainees in the YES program becoming the first employees of the Manufacturers Group Training Scheme (MGTS). A similar Government program in Information Technology traineeships allowed the business to grow in regional Victoria at Bendigo, it along with a contract to deliver traineeships to meat workers in Wodonga started decentralization of the business and was the for runner of a national model.
In 1998 ACM and Metal Trades Industry Association merged with each other under a new identity known as the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) hence our new name the Ai Group Training Services P/L (AiGTS) was created. This was economically a tough period as the Government funded programs had ceased and industry needed time to be re educated in terms of investing in skills training by sending apprentices to the Centre, in effect the training cycle had been broken. There was a clear shift towards "on the job" competency based training. At the same time technology in the form of CNC and NC machines meant the Training Centre could not provide sufficient up to date cutting edge equipment to train apprentices on without a massive capital injection. The strategic decision was taken in 1999 to restructure the business around our Group Training and RTO delivering business / administration courses and selling off the skills centre, so ended the very important and highly respected existence of this reputable institution that had provided the beginning of so many school leavers with careers in engineering.
In 2003 new national GTO compliance standards were introduced; this not only meant meeting the standards but regular audits were imposed, unfortunately these audits were not transferable across State borders resulting in a massive inefficiencies and cost to GTO's.
Strategically the same year AiGTS relocated to 20 Queens Road, Melbourne, opened a fulltime office at Westmead in Western Sydney, offices in Wollongong and Brisbane quickly followed as the business developed nationally. AiGTS is an industry GTO and focuses on the Manufacturing sector; its RTO also went national and more commercial in its offerings. All this is under pinned by our Australian Apprenticeship Centre (AAC) partnership with MAS National. AiGTS GTO had spread into most States and Territories; however it was the merger with the South Australian Engineering Employers Association Group Training Scheme on 1st July 2009 that has strengthened and consolidated AiGTS as the premier GTO in manufacturing. Today AiGTS through its seven offices has 550 apprentices placed in 200 host companies across the country as it continues to support industry with apprentice recruitment, mentoring and management that meets the highest OH&S standards.
So how does a vocational training business create such a wonderful fifty year history?
Clearly being industry driven is critical to the longevity of the business, sticking to core values of apprentice training in the manufacturing sector underpin and build a strong reputation for reliability. Being prepared to reinvent the business by adapting to the market demand and opportunities on a national scale has played a major role in growth. Flexibility of delivery and brand identity such as the Ai Group name is a powerful influence as it guarantees a quality service. AiGTS is blessed with dedicated staff that are exceptionally competent and passionate about their job and outstanding role models. Finally, leadership stability has been vitally important both at Board level and CEO level in creating an undeniable "constancy of purpose".
Fifty years ago REPCO managers had a vision and established an iconic Apprentice Training Centre; today that proud legacy lives on through AiGTS.