Sunday, April 05, 2009

Apprenticeship Blues

About a year ago, Mister Fixit gave up his lowly-paid job as a motorbike mechanic to become an Adult Apprentice Aircraft Mechanical Engineer. You can read what we thought about it here.


Fast forward to a year later.The reality of Fixit's exciting new job has been as follows:

The Workplace.
  1. No long-term planning to accommodate proper learning for the adult apprentice intake. Random quantities of proper instruction. If he is rostered with a good leading hand then things will be good. But it's not unusual for him to be given tasks with incomplete instruction and help. Many days spent either lubing or removing/replacing panels. And of course, apprentices should expect a degree of hack work but they also need to acquire a variety of skills in order to qualify. Fixit is not convinced that anyone within the management remembers this.
  2. Roster system completely crap. Fixit receives his roster 2 days ahead of it commencing which makes planning ANYTHING completely impossible. Said roster could include night or weekend work which is highly problematic for us given that I work 3 nights a week and Saturday mornings. Bear in mind that there is NO financial reward for overtime, evening or weekend work. Two weeks ago Fixit submitted a letter saying that for the duration of the apprenticeship he would only be able to work day shift, as had been agreed when he signed up. The response from the people he talked to was that it would take at least a month to verify this.
  3. Nine and ten hour days standard for most of the year.
  4. Random stand-downs when no planes in service making Fixit anxious about fulfilling his annual quota of hours.
  5. Lack of any proper chain of command making it difficult to know who to speak to when problems arise.

The TAFE (schooling)

I don't think I can dot-point the TAFE so easily. Last year they received enormous amounts of material to work through in very short periods of time. For example, an A-Z of Year 11 Physics in a bit over a week. These very concentrated bursts of learning are followed by an exam. If a student fails the exam they are expected to pay $140 to re-sit. Handbooks are not given out in advance so you can't swot up before class time, and the handouts often arrive 2 days into the learning process. They have access to some online worksheets from the aviation industry but they don't necessarily conform with the course-work and are available only for the month when the subject is being taught. The TAFE itself is badly organised and the communication lines between the industry authority and the TAFE are laughably bad.

This year, being second year, Fixit and the others were hoping that they would be studying harder stuff but not in such a rushed and pell-mell manner. The preferred method of teaching appears to be an information dump, without practical examples or thorough backup to make sure they understand. What actually happened this year was that the material was indeed harder and more complex but it was taught dumped in exactly the same way. Making it even harder to take all this knowledge in is the presence of the young apprentii who muck around, whinge, or sleep through class and then panic at the end and take up all the tutor's time. Not that that is the TAFE's fault, but it doesn't help the serious learners like Fixit.


So this has been Fixit's existence for some time now. The rostering problems really only started towards the end of last year, but the TAFE stuff has been getting progressively worse since the start. It has been a really hard year for us. We're still on a terrible wage, but Fixit's hours got longer and more unpredictable. Not surprisingly he became more and more stressed and grumpy and frustrated and dispirited. We've been unable to really plan very much involving him. He's had no physical outlet to offset the ongoing stress; finding time to fit in regular exercise what with child-minding on my work nights, early starts and random work hours has been all but impossible.


Anyway, it all came to a head last weekend. I think it is one thing to sort of know you are stressed and another thing to work out you actually ARE STRESSED and that it has started to affect the way you function. In Fixit's case he went to try and have a bit of study prior to week of schooling and found himself staring at the worksheets unable to take in a single thing and in a state of absolute panic and hopelessness. He was convinced that his brain didn't work in the right way. And sometimes it takes someone else to say to you: this is not because you are too stupid to do this, it is because you are too stressed. So I guess it was lucky that I was around, and that I'd just read an excellent article by Stephanie Dowrick on stress. Because when we checked off the physical symptoms she listed as stress-related, Fixit suffered a whole lot of them: Flu-like symptoms, digestive problems, sleeping problems, breathlessness. All on top of emotional and mental symptoms, such as feelings of hopelessness. Not fun.


The upshot is that we saw our G.P. who immediately gave him a medical certificate to absent himself from TAFE for the week and prescribed some blood tests and some walking to begin with. And then we applied for some annual leave to give him a proper break. And whilst all this is starting to make him feel better, it only took the sms from his work informing him of his roster for the following week (night shift, despite his letter) to give him the jitters again.


Then Fixit's grandfather, aged 92, without any preceding illness to speak of, died peacefully on Monday morning. So we've had the funeral to contend with too. And the guilt about not having seen enough of Pop recently to contend with too. It hasn't been the happiest of weeks.

Pop and birthday pewter mug

I'm not sure which way forward. We hope that the request for Monday to Friday day shifts will be granted, and that maybe we can devise ways to help him cope with the study load (it would be naive to think the TAFE will change the way it operates). I'm considering spending some of the fiscal stimulus money on a laptop and some wireless internet so he can study in the comfort of the loungeroom while I'm at work. The more he can get ahead of the TAFE workload the better he'll be. I think some regular exercise is vital, as is as much TLC as the boys and I can throw at him. And eventually we have to decide if it is worth hanging in there. We always knew the first few years would be tough, but it's been worse than we predicted. We need to find the balance of how much short-term pain for long-term gain we can bear. It's hard to know.

Four Generations of Fixit Men


  1. Great last photo.

    May a speedy resolution seek you all out.

  2. How awful, bloody tafe, bloody stupid roster. Why don't they have the brains to treat people decently so they stay, enjoy their work and therefore be more productive? Simple.

  3. I really feel for you both.

    With patience and care you will work it out but god it must be bloody awful and distressing right now.

  4. These stress-filled times of one's life really do suck monkey crotch. You'll find a way. I'm sure of it.

  5. That sucks. If they WANT adult apprentices, they should realise what comes along with the adults... their family life. Hope his letter works and the day shifts come your way!

  6. Oh shit stomper....You could try rattling a few cages at TAFe. I have been through the system and it totally sucked...but what they are doing is not conducive to learning at all...AND they are in the business of getting people through, so make them help you !

  7. Firstly, I'm sorry to hear about Fixit's grandfather.

    Um, now about the apprenticeship, that really sucks. Can you make a formal complaint to the governing department? DEWR or DEST or whoever manages the apprenticeships. Because I know the govt is totally pushing the whole adult apprenticeship thing and I also know that if you get through to the right customer relations unit (called a CRU in my workplace) sometimes things can be fixed. This is because they are very accountable, unlike where the the guts of the work takes place. The CRU certainly gets people dancing and "issues" fixed in my workplace!

    Hope Fixit feels better soon.

    Sorry if that didn't make much sense. I should go to bed. nigh night.

  8. My sympathies on a really crappy last few months, and especially on the loss of Pop.

    You are quite right about addressing this through the GP, and I also think Janet's suggestion is very helpful, even if it will take some balls and persistence to see it through.

    In the meantime, wireless internet is great if you can afford it, and is not too difficult to set up. I don't know much about being an adult apprentice, but it would be very difficult to walk away from it at this stage, even with the hit and miss nature of the supervision. Retraining is so important, and good on him (and you both) for biting this bullet.

    Its a toughie. Best of luck, hang in there.

    Lovely photos...

  9. Oh shitty shit shit.

    Is he studying at my work? If so let me know and I'll find out who to forward this list of shit to.

    Hugs to you all.

  10. Oh, damnit, he was so excited to begin with.
    What does Fixit like to do other than study? He should start scheduling time to do whatever that is, too.

    Whatever advice I can think of to give is going to be a band-aid on a big gaping wound. I hope y'all can figure it out.

  11. Aw, poor Fixit! We have been through the job stress stuff here too and it is NO FUN. I hope things get better soon. That is no way to live, yo.

  12. You and the boys are stellar for throwing TLC his way and recognizing the stress rather than reacting to it and inadvertently adding to it (which is so easy to do). I'd encourage him to stick with it, even though it's beyond tough right now. He's smart as a whip, as evidenced by his physics prowess. If he can get through that, he can get through anything. When I went through engineering school, I think physics was the hardest part, and it's sort of the underlying key to the higher level courses. So I know he will do WELL!

    Best of luck to all of you. Hang in there!

    Sorry about Pop....

  13. I'm sorry. My condolences on the loss of Fixit's grandfather.

    I wish I had something useful or helpful to contribute. I do think you've taken the smart first step, which people often don't: identifying and itemizing the problems.

    Regarding the TAFE classes, is there a way to get related information from another source so as to get a little familiar with it ahead of time? For example, textbooks on the subject (if any!) or notes from someone who has taken the class before? Do the classes have a syllabus which outlines which topics are going to be covered?

    (And here I begin to drone) I had a big gap in the middle of getting my degree. I started, then dropped out to work, then ended up doing both full time after a number of years. All told, it took ten years to get that @#$% degree counting the gap. The other students were younger and, I felt, much smarter. And they didn't have to work full time. I floundered. I felt like my butt was being kicked.

    However, I found that the library had tons of textbooks on the topics we were covering. For example, if the class was in Electricity & Magnetism, I could find four or five different texts at the library. Each of them would have examples which were coincidentally much like the ones my instructors were handing out for homework. That meant I began to get familiar with the topics a little sooner, ace my homework, then in turn ace the tests.

    The information has to be out there somewhere. It's just a question of where, and whether it's somewhere that Fixit can get his hands on it.

  14. A rather daunting list, but so typical of this day & age, I fear.
    So glad you went to GP- so many men wont.
    Condolences re Pop. He went peacefully, so don't feel guilty.

  15. Sorry about Pop, but good he went peacefully....
    It never rains but it pours---hope some of the suggestions from others can help you both sort your way through it. How much longer does he have to be an apprentice? Too bad there isn't an accelerated course for the adult/serious students. It does seem a shame to quit now. Getting some regular exercise would help enormously, I think. Good luck.

  16. Hey Stomper, I'm really sorry you're all going through a shit time right now. I understand completely the guilt about not seeing enough of the people you love until it's too late as well. My hubby is really prone to work-related stress, and he has the same symptoms as Fixit when shit hits the fan. It must be hard on you as well, supporting him through this, as well as being the prop for the whole family, and making sure they all get the care they need. Keep up the amazing work.

  17. Now that doesn't sound like fun. The study sounds hard enough, but to back it up with crazy rostering and poor organisation is enough to send the best family into hyperdrive stress mode.

    Good idea to visit the GP.

  18. Poor Fixit. Thank goodness you are such a good team and are able to look at this together and address it. Such a hard situation, especially if you expect to be much happier/better off after he finishes but I think you should always go with a 'life is too short' mentality!

    Sorry about Pop.

  19. The lack of organization would drive Rob (and I assume Fixit, from what you've said) as nuts as the study load. Rob had an opportunity to add some degrees for additional pay (not much) but was under such stress trying to balance a full-time school load, full-time work schedule and a family life, that we agreed it wasn't worth the money.

    I think men worry about providing for the family financially more than women do, even though both partners are likely to work outside the home now.

    You'll find the balance, I'm confident. Those two grinning boys will be as good a medicine as anything.

  20. It sounds like they're setting him up to fail in a way. That's too much and stress is not a good bed fellow. Get him well. IT sounds like you're all sorting it out though. Good to see everyone working together.

  21. My thoughts are with you. Been in a simialr place with my DH, did get out the otherside intact. Walking definitely the best medicine for me and mine

  22. I can see in the last paragraph that you wrote that you know the way forward already. It just takes a little patience to get you there. patience can be in short supply beyond a certain age, with a family to support, but I have confidence that you'll find the balance you need.

  23. Gorgeous pic of Pop. Please accept my condolences.

    I always found having a study buddy more help then any tutor or lecturer, are there any other mature age students with families?

    It's a tough gig that's for sure. Thinking of you.

  24. xox
    for you all

    and extra for you, stomper. I know just how important a loving, understanding, solution-seeking partner is right now, and good on you for being one. Really. I mean that a lot.

  25. Hi Stomper,

    I hope by the time you are reading this, things are getting better for all of you.


  26. You're so good to your man, he's a lucky fellow.

    Apprenticeships however, are no fun, and the support really seems to have had the arse bitten out of it here.

    I liked the idea of a study-buddy. Anyone from the course local? Has he made any new work-friends ? Someone to bitch with as they swot?

    He'll make it.
    I just wish it was easier for you all


  27. Well, this truly stinks.
    I wish you all the best as you work through this.

  28. Really thinking of you all at the moment and wishing you all the very best.

  29. The TAFE approach is ridiculous - I can write a million words about why it's so ineffective(being a part-time teacher myself) but that's not going to help you or Fixit.

    It sounds like you are on the right track by getting some help from the doctor. As for the course, does he have anyone he can talk to? Sometimes that helps. And having the TLC from you and the boys is essential for him. What he is going through sucks.

    I am so sorry about your loss. No matter how much time you spend with people, it's never enough, is it? I am sure he knows that. xxx

  30. We've been through a very similar thing wtih Mr Duyvken and it's not fun. Exercise definitely helps but it's not easy getting through the first weeks of exercising where it's just a chore to the point where the body and mind crave it and it's just a joy. Wishing you all the best. A


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