'Extremely valuable': ETU apprentice named best in NSW for 2018

Nicholas McCallum

Michael Edwards' work on Snowy Hydro takes him places most will never go. 

Michael Edwards was a motor mechanic for 15 years before his bosses at Snowy Hydro Limited asked if would like to take up a second trade as an Electrotechnology Electrician.

But in September Michael made his way to the podium to be awarded the NSW Apprentice of the Year for 2018.

“I had no idea was going to win pretty stiff competition,” said the man from Corryong on the Victoria-NSW border. “I was quite shocked to win actually.”

The 39-year-old thought he was outmatched by the other candidates who had “done some outstanding things”, including a hairdresser who won a Golden Guitar at the Australian Country Music Awards in Tamworth while completing her apprenticeship and another who won the Master Builders apprentice of the year.

Michael Edwards (centre) at Sydney Town Hall with TAFE NSW managing director Jon Black. Source: TAFE NSW

“I’ve just done as well as I could. I wanted to be the best tradesman I could,” Michael said.

With the duel-trades under his belt, Michael is seen as an “extremely valuable” member of the team at Snowy Hydro where his employers continue to drive his development. He has already begun work gaining further qualifications with a Diploma in Electrical Engineering and an Industrial Automation Cert IV.

Electrical Trades Union Apprentice Officer Mark Burgess expressed immense pride in Michael’s career achievements, saying it was sentiment shared by many who have worked with him.

“He is a well-respected by his peers and has received glowing references from his union delegate and employer alike,” Mark said.

NSW Apprentice of the Year Michael Edwards and a map showing his jobsite: the Snowy Hydro system. Source: Training Services NSW/Wiki Commons

“Michael has great union values and actively encourages new employees and apprentices to get involved. Congratulations on the well-deserved accolade.”

In 2017 Michael, a father-of-three, won Campus Apprentice of the Year at Wagga Wagga TAFE, a four-hour round trip from his home in the Snowy Mountains.

This year’s award for being the top apprentice in NSW follows Michael’s progress as a finalist for the ETU’s Apprentice of the Year. Michael stood out among some tough competition and travelled to Canberra in June where the winner was announced during the 2018 Officers Conference.

READ MORE: And the winner is... ETU Apprentice of the Year

In his application, Michael expressed his strong commitment to union values, saying he would never coast on the work of others.

“Never having been one for an armchair ride, I feel a moral obligation to encourage others in my workplace to join the ETU,” Michael wrote.

Working on the Snowy Hydro means Michael gets to work with technology from two entirely different eras. Source: Creative Commons

As a mechanic Michael had “no connection to the union”. He was in a small shop it was “who you worked for was who worked under,” but working at one of Australia’s largest pieces of infrastructure Michael soon learnt the value of being union.

“There the shop steward came up to me and started talking to me about the unions,” he recalled.

“A lot of the times you just have to ask people about the union, it doesn’t occur to many what unions do.” 

The Snowy Hydro gig has also taken Michael on a trip through time and two different periods of technology: state-of-the-art and the now-ancient tech of the 1950s.

“You get exposed to a lot of upgrades and new technology, but you see a lot of artefacts and old relays,” he said. “You get to see how it used to be.”

Michael said the old mechanical devices are “very well maintained” and some things are “like clockwork”, with actual gears and cogs still turning to keep the Snowy Hydro powering away.

He described the massive project that started to be built in 1949 as “awe inspiring” and a true wonder of engineering when considering the “amount of concrete and infrastructure that’s gone into it”.

Michael at work on the Snowy Hydro's electrics. Source: TAFE NSW

The job also takes Michael on journeys through the Australian wilderness to places that few people have been or aren’t allowed to go to.

“Some of the infrastructure is where people aren’t allowed to go, so you see some parts of the country no one ever sees.”

With Snowy Hydro 2.0 on the cards and likely to be a massive boon for the economy, Michael said there will be plenty of opportunities for tradespeople to build a part of history.

“The Snowy is Australian folklore, who’s not going to want the opportunity to put themselves into Australian folk history?” he asked.

The Snowy 2.0 project will provide ample opportunities for workers. Michael hopes his son is one of them. Source: Creative Commons

The project will also provide ample opportunities for people to take on a new trade or up-skill, which Michael said was never out of reach for anyone – no matter how old they were or how they did at school. Michael said he hopes to set an example and encourage “kids who struggle” to “chase your dream”.

He said his young son was in that boat, “but if he followed me in the trade I’d be proud”.

Michael added that this was one of the many reasons joining your union was important, because they ensure apprentices can get on with their studies with fewer worries.

“It’s great being able to come to work and concentrate on learning your trade, knowing the union’s looking after the high-end stuff and they’ve got you back,” he said.


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