Apprenticeships can improve mental health

Will Gulliford, Tom Gulliford and Matt Ventrella have all been taken on as apprentices with Hutchinson Builders. Photo: James Brickwood Will Gulliford, Tom Gulliford and Matt Ventrella. All three have taken on Apprenticeships with Hutchinson Builders. Photo: James Brickwood

Andrew Gulliford is a site manager at Hutchinson. Photo: James Brickwood


An apprenticeship provided Hutchinson Builders site supervisor Andrew Gulliford with more than just a job.

It gave him quality training, mentoring, skills and a trade. It also gave him and other apprentices self-worth and purpose.

“The company invested a lot of time and effort into me,” he says.

Mr Gulliford now wants new apprentices, including his sons Will and Tom, to have the same quality training and life opportunities he was given.

“You are giving them a purpose in life,” Mr Gulliford said.

New University of Sydney research has found that quality apprenticeships can provide valuable social support and improve the mental health of young people making the transition from school to work.

The study showed how the workplace can play an important role in supporting mental health and wellbeing, beyond medications and therapy.

“Social structures of support are a vital third element in any mental health care and prevention regime,” it says.

Quality of training and mentoring can also boost apprenticeship completion rates which are as low as 50 per cent in Australia.

Study leader Professor John Buchanan said companies that provide quality training and mentoring have completion rates as high as 90 per cent.

The study Beyond mentoring: social support structures for young Australian carpentry apprentices looked at the best apprenticeship training schemes in the Australian carpentry trade and found work-based mentoring and social support could help prevent mental health problems, or detect them early. The study included small businesses and larger companies including Hutchinson Builders, Fairbrother Pty Ltd, Barangaroo Skills Exchange and East Coast Apprenticeships.

Professor Buchanan said many young people battle with mental health problems long before they are finally detected.

“The right support can prevent a lot of problems from happening. Or if you can’t prevent them, you have early warning systems that allow intervention before things spiral out of control,” he said.

“Among mental health experts is it widely recognised that the next big breakthrough for mental health isn’t going to come from drugs and one-on-one counselling, it is going to come from better social structures and support.”

The study quoted an experienced carpenter and now supervisor with Lend Lease at Barangaroo saying: “I came from Coffs Harbour originally … I dropped out of school there in year 10 and became a mischievous street kid … I moved to Sydney to work in a labouring job my uncle found for me … but it fell through … I’d just turned 18 and wanted to party with my mates. Sydney has so many openings with clubs, the Cross … too many distractions … without them, I’d have been lost.”

The research found that quality apprenticeships were not something that could be simply “added on” as a separate program. Quality on-the-job learning and informal and peer-based mentoring was found to be more effective.

“An effective social structure support isn’t something you bolt onto the side of something,” Professor Buchanan said. “When you look at the apprenticeship system the things that really provide the support are not the arrangements that are funded by the Commonwealth Government. It is the quality of the day-in-day-out arrangements that merge skill development and personal development.

“When people turned up on the job people took notice of them and respected them and listened to their requests for help, offered insights in how to become more competent on the job and if problems emerged, helped them solve them. They felt safe to ask for guidance.”

Professor Buchanan said apprenticeships were most effective in workplaces that provided on-and-off-the-job training and enough time for skills to be learned gradually.

Will Gulliford, 20, from Narrabeen is six months into a four-year apprenticeship with Hutchinsons and is one of seven apprentices. He hopes to become a site manager like his father and said he socialises with some of the other apprentices. He said older workers are always willing to help him learn the trade.

“They know you are a new person on the job. They always help you out,” he said.

Fourth-year apprentice Matt Ventrella, 19, from Picnic Point said he was given a variety of roles and hopes to become a site or contract manager.

“We are all very close in Hutchies. If I want to do something, I’m not shy to ask. They are very helpful and willing to give you a go.

“I think doing an apprenticeship is very good for your confidence.”

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