Pre-employment training proves a success for the maritime industry

There is no doubting, the marine industry is big business. A visit to the Australian Maritime Complex (AMC) in Henderson just outside of Perth will confirm this. Working in or with the maritime industry has always carried certain stereotypes, but like it or not, it is here to stay as the resource sector booms in Western Australia.

As the marine workforce increases, the need for fair employment practices comes into play. People like, Mark Woodhouse, Indigenous Training and Employment Manager with Offshore Marine Services Alliance or OMSA as it is abbreviated to on the high vis clothing sported by the mariners are landing important roles to train and manage the Indigenous workforce for big employers.

Offshore Marine Services Alliance is responsible for the movement of cargo for the massive Gorgon Project and employs a workforce of stevedores (commonly known as “wharfies”) to do the heavy lifting.

Mark is originally from Far North Queensland. He traced his family history to the Murri people, with his father being from Cunnamulla and his mother from Cherbourg. He was fostered at a young age to a supportive, bohemian couple that travelled a lot along the east coast. Mark grew up along the coast from far north as Tully in Queensland to as far south as Gosford in NSW. Mark spent 23 years with the Defence Force, his last posting being to the Directorate of Indigenous Affairs (ADF) as an Indigenous Recruitment Officer for Western Australia Mark recently left the Defence Force and started with OMSA in October 2010. 

Since starting with OMSA, Mark has bolstered the Indigenous employment. Before Mark commenced, OMSA has been successful in employing 15 Indigenous employees working on the wharfs at the Australian Maritime Complex loading the barges headed offshore. 

Mark has developed a respected relationship with the employees, has increased Indigenous employment levels on the wharves and the vessels, and maintains a 100% employee retention rate.

Mark is not only responsible for the employment, mentoring and management of the Indigenous stevedores, but he is also assisting in the execution of a pilot pre-employment maritime training program for Indigenous Australians based out of Geraldton. The program is in its infancy with 15 Indigenous trainees working through a 10-week pre-employment program. The ten-week training program set up by OMSA and the Durack Institute of Technology (DIT) is funded by DEEWR. The aim of the program is to up-skill Indigenous people for work in the maritime industry (Offshore). Throughout the ten weeks the trainees do a myriad of training programs including numeracy and literacy, health and nutrition, finance and budgeting, basic marine safety and cultural awareness. At the conclusion of the ten weeks, should they graduate, all trainees will receive a Certificate II in Transport and Distribution (Marine) and 12 of the trainees will be employed by OMSA and, or it’s joint venture partners.

There is an overwhelmingly positive feeling about the Indigenous training program in Geraldton. This sentiment stems from the experienced men on the wharf in Perth as they put their hands up to mentor the students going through the program and share their knowledge and wisdom all the way through to senior management based in the Perth office.

Ben Matthews, Employment Relations Director OMSA is particularly positive about the pilot pre-employment training program. He praises the work Mark has done since he started. 

“Without Indigenous mentoring and management, the program wouldn’t work,” says Ben. He comments on the importance of having Mark run the program and engage with the Indigenous employees both in Perth and up in Geraldton. With a new CEO, Ben is keen to communicate the importance of this program and Indigenous employees with OMSA. 

“We are not doing this like some other companies are, just to tick a box. Our investment in this program is real and we look forward to seeing the graduation of the trainees and taking them on as full time employees within OMSA and/or its joint venture partners,” Ben says. 

Ben adds, “OMSA, which started up in 2009 for this particular project, committed to do more than simply employ Indigenous people within its workforce. It committed to retain and develop them in an environment that is supportive and cognisant of their cultural needs and sensitivities.”

With twelve guaranteed employment outcomes following the completion of the course, the program should see some excellent outcomes and help grow OMSA’s Indigenous workforce. If the morale of any of the Indigenous stevedores working at the wharf in Perth is anything to go by, the graduates from the trainee program in Geraldton will be chomping at the bit to get on board with OMSA. As Roger Pickett, Indigenous stevedore and OMSA employee said, “I never knew it would be possible… Since working here with OMSA loading the barges, I have in just over a year, bought a car outright and have moved into a new house I have taken a loan on and have a second loan on a new car for my family.” Prior to OMSA, Roger was working for Centrelink. He enjoys the salary, the flexibility of week on week off work, and most importantly the employee morale and support he receives by his comrades. 

By Kate Sutton 

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