Drawn to a life with heavy equipment

National Group apprenticeships creating opportunities for aspiring diesel fitters.

National Group Apprentice: Jess Clinch

Jess Clinch knew she wanted a career in the trades after doing work experience at Lake Field, a small rural community on the southern Cape York Peninsula. Her role involved operating heavy machinery.

After finishing school, Clinch moved from Cairns to Mackay to be near family. While working at a service station, Clinch met a recruiter who was looking to hire apprentices for National Group. She interviewed the next day and was told that night she had the job.

Fast forward two years and Clinch is a second-year apprentice diesel fitter at National Group’s Nebo workshop in north Queensland. As part of a team, the 19-year-old is helping to strip and rebuild engines for some of the mining industry’s largest equipment – and loving every minute of it.

“I have to pinch myself working on such cool equipment,” says Clinch. “The job has been incredibly challenging and rewarding so far. It was a bit daunting at the start because there was so much to learn. But I’m really understanding how everything fits together and works.”

Apprenticeship campaign

Clinch is one of several apprentices National Group has hired as part of its first apprenticeship recruitment campaign for its Nebo and Blackwater operations.  Five apprentice diesel fitters, including Clinch, have joined the company since 2020.

National Group expects to hire at least another three apprentices next year as the business expands its workforce amid new contract awards.

National Group Recruitment Manager Scott Tobin says the company wants to expand its supply of diesel fitters. “There’s a shortage of diesel fitters in the mining industry. We want to hire and train talented young people who have a great attitude and want to build a successful career as a diesel fitter at National Group.”

Tobin says National Group is focused on developing its own diesel fitters. “Previously, we’ve used mining-service technicians on site, some of whom have gone on to do apprenticeships. In addition to that model, the company wants to develop apprentices in diesel fitting from day one. It’s a long-term investment in National Group’s future workforce and leadership.”

Tobin says National Group received hundreds of applications for its first two advertised apprenticeships. “There was enormous interest in the roles. A National Group apprenticeship is a great way of gaining exposure to the mining industry. As part of one of Australia’s best equipment-maintenance teams, National Group apprentices are learning skills on state-of-the-art mining equipment.”

Rewarding experience

Clinch says she learns every day on the job. Her favorite task is assisting with the component rebuilds, “I love the precision required when rebuilding components as you need to be on the ball to make sure everything is perfect.”

 “I feel most comfortable working on the Cat 793 Dump truck as we have been rebuilding them from the ground up in the Nebo workshop. In addition to the 793s, I have worked on Cat D10 & D11 Dozers, and 14M, 16M & 24M Graders just to name a few.”

Clinch says National Group is a great place to become a diesel fitter. “There are so many brands and different types of equipment. We don’t just fit new components, I help the team remove the old components once they achieve life. These components are then stripped, rebuild and refitted. We do whatever it takes at the Nebo work shop to keep these metal giants on the move.”

“I also get to work with our auto electricians, identifying and repairing faults, which allows me to learn machine electrical systems.”

“Through National Heavy Haulage, we get to work on trucks that transport mining equipment too. As you can tell, the work is really varied, and I’m learning skills on lots of different machines.”

The lifestyle of an apprentice suits Clinch. “I work a 10-hour shift each day, Monday to Friday. I come home covered in dirt and grease. It’s hard work and difficult at times, but also fun and interesting. We have a great team at the Nebo workshop.”

In the next few years, Clinch hopes to do more work on-site at mines. “When I finish my apprenticeship, I’d love to work on National Group equipment at a mine site. It would be great to get out there and diagnose and fix equipment faults in the field.”

Long term, Clinch hopes to move into a management-planning role. “I like the planning side of maintenance and making sure we have everything needed to get the job done. My plan is to do some courses and get some skills in management planning down the track. I find it really inspiring when people build a great business, as Mark (Ackroyd) has done.”

For now, Clinch’s goal is to complete her apprenticeship and keep learning on the job. ‘I knew immediately from my work experience in Lake field that a job in heavy machinery was for me. I get to do that every day at National Group through my apprenticeship.”