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From a four-year apprenticeship, to a four-decade job

This article appears in: Changing careers, Trades
Eddie Clarke pictured at work

“When I was growing up in Darwin, I didn’t really hear much about mechanical fitters,” said Eddie Clarke, who’s currently pursuing a Certificate III in Mechanical Engineering at Charles Darwin University.

“Studying the trade has been a bit of a spin-out for me. You can turn steel into just about whatever you want, which is amazing. And to have the opportunity to work at a facility like the one operated by INPEX is pretty mind-blowing.”

Mind-blowing is indeed a good way to describe INPEX’s onshore liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facilities near Darwin, where Eddie is apprenticing. It’s part of the Ichthys LNG—one of the world’s largest and most complex natural gas projects. The development has offshore processing facilities joined by an 890 kilometre gas export pipeline to the onshore LNG processing facilities near Darwin where Eddie works. And it’s expected to continue production for at least 40 years.

Eddie started working as a tradie’s assistant during the construction phase, when there were about 8,000 workers onsite every day.

Being an assistant to tradies was OK, but I wanted to become a professional tradesman myself, so I could secure a better paying, long-term job.

Now that the development is operational and shipping LNG overseas, the workforce has dwindled to 160 staff who operate the plant and another 270 tradespeople who conduct maintenance. And that’s where Eddie’s apprenticeship comes in.

Eddie was our first apprentice taken on in 2017 by TRACE JV (Broadspectrum and Cegelec Joint Venture) after INPEX moved Ichthys LNG into operations,” said Scott Burnett, a manager at TRACE, the company employs Eddie and provides maintenance services. “Eddie’s got a real aptitude for the job, which is great, because we’ll need skilled tradespeople like him to be part of our team well into the future.”

Eddie is now halfway through his four-year apprenticeship at CDU, but when he first began his studies, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

“It was the unknown, but it’s turned out to be just awesome. I’ve learned a lot and all the instructors have been sensational—they always include everyone. If you don’t understand something or if a student is a bit shy or perhaps their literacy skills need work, the instructors make sure that the student gets the assistance they need.

“There’s flexibility too. Because of my kids, I’ve had times when I’ve had to leave trade school a bit early, and that’s OK with my instructors if my study module has been completed or if I can catch up on it the next day.

“I get to put what I’ve learned at CDU into hands-on practice at the INPEX-operated site, giving me a really good understanding of how things work in practice. I do jobs like changing out pressure safety valves, fixing mechanical seals, and overhauling and inspecting pumps and motors—heaps of different things.

“It’s great now that I’m part of INPEX’s operations in Darwin, working alongside the guys who are processing the LNG. And there’s talk that the processing plant could expand, so I think there’ll be lots of work for many years to come,” added Eddie.

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