Big lift for skills

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.30.48 amCommuters on Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge can often see the jib of a luffing crane, stretching and flexing through morning exercises, in the business park below them.

The 38m Leibherr tower crane is state-of-the-art, the only one of its kind in Australia and the centrepiece of the Victorian CFMEU’s High Risk Training Centre at Port Melbourne.

Its cabin has been modified so trainees and experienced trainers can work alongside one another. The crane operates off a 3000m2 hard stand surrounded by warehouses that have been converted into classrooms.

Often, it shares the hard stand with other moving equipment, including mobile cranes, scissor lifts, hoists and mobile platforms.

Because of all this activity, and the fact the High Risk Training Centre isn’t called that for fun, the CFMEU tries to limit numbers at this facility to a maximum of 80 at any time.

The CFMEU Education and Training Unit offers specialist courses and diplomas in health and safety, and training in a range of other skills, including rigging, dogging and asbestos removal.

The specialist equipment at Port Melbourne accounts for some of the $14 million the union has poured into training facilities and equipment over the past nine years.

The high risk centre is the high tech end of a much broader, 21-year commitment to training that is grounded on a commitment to language and literacy.

All CFMEU trainers have done language and literacy training and many are qualified teachers.

It is useful for working with immigrant groups, including running weekly bilingual induction courses for Chinese construction workers, but co-ordinator Anne Duggan says it goes deeper than that.

“The school consciously tries to upgrade the potential of industry participants,” she says. “Language and literacy is at the heart of that.”

Duggan has been the driving force behind the unit. From a teaching background, in tech schools and migrant education programs, she was its first coordinator.

She has seen the unit grow from herself and two part-timers to an RTO that employs 25 staff to train more than 10,000 workers a year. It offers 64 courses across broad OHS, High Risk and Trades streams.

In its 21 years, more than 55,000 workers from thousands of building companies have passed through its doors.

Duggan says the CFMEU is proud of its role in upskilling the industry.

“Anyone who comes to us knows they are being trained by the CFMEU Education and Training Unit,” she says. “We are proud of that because we do a good job and our record speaks for itself.”

Due to that openness, perhaps, it is one of the most probed RTOs in Australia.

It was worked over by the Cole Commission which was unable to find fault with its processes or standards and has faced up to 16 audits in a single year.

Increasingly, it is being approached to provide training by councils, government departments and schools.

CFMEU careers officers are in and out of classrooms across the state and, this year, it has partnered with 40 Melbourne high and special schools to deliver programs through its non-profit model. These range from general OHS inductions to limited height scaffolding courses on school grounds.

Duggan says the interest from schools is “overwhelming” and the CFMEU has to limit its involvement so it can meet its core responsibility to train industry participants.

There are various routes to CFMEU training. Employers send individuals or block book whole courses. Unemployed building workers upskill between jobs by using their redundancy accounts, while industry newcomers generally pay their own way.

Increasingly, schools and other institutions are contracting CFMEU trainers on a fee-for-service basis.

But the majority of training unit funding still comes through Incolink, Victoria’s version of BERT, which manages EBA negotiated redundancy funds through its board of Master Builders Association and CFMEU directors.

Duggan says undermining that model would be disastrous for the industry.

“There is no way government funding will cover the cost of high quality training,” she says.

“If they shut the doors on co-managed training, the industry will be in trouble. We would be back in the situation that caused the CFMEU to set up this training unit in the first place.

“The industry, and the union, have put many millions of dollars into this. Who would pick that up, the taxpayer?”


Timeline – CFMEU Victoria Education and Training


• 1993 unit established with co-ordinator and two part-time teachers. It delivers

basic OHS courses and uses its first government grant to teach Workplace

English Language and Literacy.


• 1996 the first industry funding comes through Incolink onsite training grants via

negotiated clauses in the 1996 Victorian Building Industry Agreement.


 2000 sees the introduction of co-managed training through the renegotiated

industry agreement. More than 3000 workers attend a range of courses, and

onsite training is delivered across Melbourne and regional Victoria.


• 2003-2005 monitoring of the unit’s finances and training is put under the

microscope in the first years of the Howard Government. In one year, the

unit is subject to 16 audits by industry bodies, state and federal agencies. It

passes every test .


• 2006 the unit has 18 employees and is registered to provide 23 certificate

courses and nine short courses. It is training apprentices and partners with Holmesglen TAFE to deliver dogging and rigging courses.


• 2007 the first property in Port Melbourne – two warehouses – are purchased.

Further plant and equipment is bought to provide a range of High Risk Work

courses. The first Diploma of OHS and Diploma of Training and Assessment

students graduate.


• 2009 annual enrolments top 10,000. The CFMEU is registered to deliver 45



• 2013 the CFMEU opens its High Risk Work Training Centre at Port Melbourne

in September, complete with tower crane.


• 2014 the High Risk Centre adds a 55T mobile crane to its inventory.

Warehouses are converted to host a range of courses in trades, asbestos

removal and confined space work. The entire training unit now employs 25

staff and is registered to deliver 64 courses.

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