Stopping the skills shortage in remote communities

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Barry Bailey and a group of welding students.

Remote communities were eager to learn new skills from Barry Bailey

In summary

  • Barry Bailey taught welding and engineering skills to remote communities in Arnhem Land 
  • Part of a program designed to employ locals in jobs maintaining the property of remote communities 

When it takes three days on a barge to get a screwdriver, preparation is vital for maintenance in remote communities.  

It was a key lesson for Swinburne fabrication and welding teacher Barry Bailey who travelled to remote Indigenous areas as part of a program to improve the engineering and welding skills of the community.

As part of a program developed by Swinburne, Supagas and Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA), Mr Bailey flew to the Arnhem Land, Elcho Island and Ramingining to train locals in MIG welding, stick welding, oxy welding and oxy cutting.

“The goal of the program is to help train local people and give them the skills they need to get employed,” says Mr Bailey.

While initially many were apprehensive about the welding and the safety requirements, Mr Bailey says that by the end of the first week the students were keen to “work right through their meal breaks.”

“When I lit the oxy flame up for the first time, two of them shot out the door,” he says.

“Convincing them they will be okay and not get hurt was a major challenge.”

Barry Bailey with a welding student.

Making the move

Mr Bailey says he was struck by how different life is in remote Indigenous communities but describes the experience as “great”.

“It’s like going to another country without using a passport,” he says

To make sure things moved smoothly, Mr Bailey ensured all this teaching material was accessible to students with varying levels of English and made a point of spending time with local elders to help engage the community.

At the end of the week long course, Mr Bailey suggested students decide what they wanted to make with their new skills.

“They had to draw something before making it and they came up with the idea of making a homemade BBQ from recycled materials,” he says proudly.

“This is a really useful item for their community.”

Welding student with BBQ.

Finding inspiration

Marcus Dhamarrandji, one of Mr Bailey’s students, took a keen interest in the program and is now using his skills professionally.

"I liked making a BBQ and learning a skill that I'm using in my building job now,” says Mr Dhamarrandji.

Another of Mr Bailey’s students went on to construct a basketball hoop out of a rod and car wheel.

“Because of how isolated these communities are, being able to create and maintain these kinds of items is so important,” says Mr Bailey.

After completing the skills training and three years working, participants receive a Certificate III in Remote Area Building Repairs and Maintenance.