26 Jun 2017
For as long as he could remember 23-year-old East Coast Apprenticeships Carpentry Apprentice James Thompson wanted to be a builder.
As a toddler he would fasten his tool belt tight around his waist and, with a plastic hammer in one hand and a plastic screwdriver in the other, he’d put himself to work alongside his father Ross as he tinkered in the shed and around the house.
“Dad’s been a Draftsman and Builder for around 40 years and growing up I wanted to be just like him – designing, building and creating things with my hands,” James said.
“Dad did his Carpentry and Joinery Apprenticeship in the Army and now has more tickets [industry qualifications] than you can poke a stick at,” he laughs.
On his 9th birthday, the plastic toys were replaced by the real deal as his father gifted James his very first ever nail bag – a momentous occasion in a family of builders – and set him to task helping put up pergolas, build verandas, form gardens and archways and numerous other DIY projects around the home.
“In my school holidays, dad would take me out with him on job sites and I’d help build frames, lift beams and lentils, and pitch rafters – it was the best,” James said.
“I loved working with my hands. I also loved working with dad; he’s my best mate,” he said.
Growing up, James’s parents stressed the importance of education, supporting and challenging him to set goals and reach his potential.
“Good grades, great life,” James said.
“Foundations are the most important part of any build and like foundations, education and knowledge is the most important part of life,” he said.
After school James wanted to pursue his passion for building while exploring ways in which he could learn skills to solve problems and design and create new things to help make life easier for others; enrolling in a Bachelor of Civil Engineering at University.
“At that stage of my life I thought I was doing the right thing, but after 2 years at Uni I decided to defer my studies and do something a little more hands-on,” James said.
“I’m more of a visual and hands-on learner. I learn best through doing and, for me, an apprenticeship offered the best of both worlds – theory combined with on-the-job practical training,” he said.
Optimistic, James took to the streets and spoke to a variety of Group Training Organisations in the hope that they’d help him find a carpentry apprenticeship.
“East Coast Apprenticeships were amazing. They called me back within an hour of handing them my resume and told me they’d organised an interview with a Host Employer in two days’ time. I couldn’t believe it, it all happened so quickly,” James said.
“Now in the final year of my apprenticeship, I’ve really found my feet working full-time with Mick Devlin of Braeden Constructions. Mick’s supportive, understanding and challenges me to further myself – a bit like my parents.”
“But not every Host Employer experience is going to be the same. I’ve learned a lot from my apprenticeship over the years and Craig Harrison, Alan Sparks and the team at East Coast Apprenticeships were there to support and guide me through each of them – the good and the bad.”
“They made sure I was always paid on time and I was never without work; I was guaranteed to finish my apprenticeship. Job security is a comforting feeling for everyone, especially a young apprentice who’s taken a risk to change careers.”
“East Coast Apprenticeships made it really easy for me; they handled all of my paperwork. They took care of my pay, tax, workers’ compensation, Superannuation, and sick days as well as arranged my annual leave and time off for my TAFE blocks,” he said.
Last year, James was selected for a month-long work and study scholarship overseas as the 2016 East Coast Apprenticeships Canada Apprentice Exchange Ambassador. The four-week exchange saw James based in Vancouver working with acclaimed Group Training Organisation SkillSource British Columbia where he participated in a nation-wide apprenticeship forum delivered by the Canadian Government, spent time at major vocational education training provider British Columbia Institute of Technology, and undertook two weeks of hands-on practical training at premium Canadian framing company Dalmore Constructions.
“It was easily the best experienced I’ve ever had,” James said.
“It’s changed my life forever, both professionally and personally.”
“The Exchange taught me a lot about myself, the job, how other countries operate and how people of a different culture interact with each other,” he said.
Rejuvenated, re-energised, refocussed, James returned to Australia determined to design a successful career in building and construction. He won the 2016 Construction Skills Queensland Apprentice of the Year, the 2016 Master Builders Sunshine Coast Apprentice of the Year, the 2016 Housing Industry Australia (HIA) Sunshine Coast and Queensland Apprentice of the Year, was a 2016 WorldSkills Queensland Gold Medallist and went on to compete in the finals of the 2016 WorldSkills National Competition in Melbourne.
In 2017 James is juggling full-time work, final year TAFE blocks, and resuming his university studies part-time undertaking a Dual Bachelor of Civil Engineering / Bachelor of Environmental Science at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC).
“I won’t be able to do carpentry forever,” James said.
“Being on the tools is taxing and physically demanding. It takes its toll on your body.”
“Growing up on the Sunshine Coast I’ve always had a close affinity with the ocean, our waterways and unique coastal environment and as a civil engineer, my work will influence where people work, relax, learn and live.”
“I plan to combine all of this with my carpentry skills and experiences in building and construction to make life a little easier for others for years to come,” he said.