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The First Step


An introduction to workplace learning at Yirara College

In February 2017, Civil Train NT was approached by Yirara College, an indigenous boarding school based in Alice Springs, to facilitate some basic WH&S training, utilising heavy machinery simulators wherever possible, in an effort to encourage student engagement.

Yirara College had access to a haul truck simulator on their site and were exploring ways of incorporating this technology into the year’s VET curriculum with Year 10 students.

The Northern Territory Department of Education suggested to the school that they make contact with Civil Train NT, as they were aware of our expertise in this field.

After numerous meetings and consultation with various stakeholders, a concept started to formulate around how best to achieve positive generic outcomes based on Civil Construction, WH&S & basic heavy machinery operations utilising simulators.

The concept of Industrial Mathematics became the backbone of what we were now attempting to achieve.



The main objective of the training program was to introduce practical applications of mathematics on a daily basis, through the delivery of WH&S units and simulated mobile plant operations.

As RIICCM201D Carry out measurements and calculations is a core unit of Certificate II and III qualifications in many Resource and Infrastructure pathways, it was essential that trainees built up a thorough and applied understanding of how mathematics is embedded into day to day work activities. 

Once we had the foundation of the program, we then began to build.

Various units were added, to create a work ready program, providing that first step into an apprenticeship / traineeship or some other form of VET sector training.

The following units were incorporated into the program:

  • RIIWHS201D Work safely & follow WHS policies & procedures
  • RIICOM201D Communicate in the workplace
  • RIIBEF201D Plan & organise work
  • RIISAM204D Operate small plant & equipment
  • RIIWHS204D Work safely at heights
  • RIIWHS202D Enter and work in confined spaces
  • CPCCOHS1001A Work safely in the construction industry (White Card)


The measurements and calculations unit can be extremely challenging, both in delivery and comprehension.  Where formal mathematics has had negative connotations for students, this unit can provide an opportunity to demonstrate the role mathematics plays in every day work-based scenarios. 

The program consisted of three weeks face to face delivery, week on week off, over five weeks. Trainees had access to the simulators for the duration of the program, with Civil Train NT stationing an Excavator and Front End Loader simulator at the school, to complement the existing Haul Truck simulator.

Each week of delivery required RII units to be completed and there were complex practical tasks at the end of weeks one and two for the Working Safely at Heights and Confined Space Entry units.

Week three incorporated plant operations with a real excavator and assessments for the remaining RII units. Completing the final RII units was optional for the trainees at this stage but all sought to achieve the units required to successfully complete the program, not just operate the machinery.



This pilot program exceeded all expectations with eight out of ten participants achieving competency in all units (two trainees had valid reasons for not being able to complete for the full program).

All participants excelled in the Maths component, and can now easily take measurements and perform the fundamental calculations required for many aspects of a Civil Construction project, including Area, Mass, Weight, Volume, Capacity, Levels, Ratios, Proportions, Perimeters, and Circumferences etc.     

All participants are now extremely motivated in relation to gaining some form of apprenticeship or traineeship with a view towards a career, not just a job.  A tertiary pathway is also definitely an option for some of these young participants.

Thank you to Stakeholders:

The work that went into the development and implementation of this program was at times challenging, but, as always, Civil Train NT staff went above and beyond to provide a supportive, stimulating learning environment and to ensure all participants had the confidence to succeed. Mathew Schaftenaar (Trainer/Assessor) worked tirelessly, with passion and determination, making an immediate impact on the trainees with his ‘football coach’ approach, and the mutual respect just grew from there.  Peta Horan, provided unfaltering administration support, ensuring all resources and equipment were always available when required, and all data entry relating to the program was completed in a timely manner.

Thanks also to industry expert Rick Loveridge for being so generous in imparting his industry knowledge and general wisdom amongst the group.

None of the above would have been possible, however, without the vision and perseverance of the School Management Team at Yirara College. Our sincerest congratulations to the Principal, Roger Ashcroft and to Pathways Co-ordinator, Donna McAskill, for an outstanding job, overcoming numerous obstacles to ensure this concept became a reality.  Civil Train NT staff were treated with the greatest of respect and courtesy during our involvement at Yirara College. Thanks to all of the Yirara College support staff, maintenance crew and teachers who assisted us whenever required.  They are all part of this story.

Civil Train NT would like to take this opportunity acknowledge the contribution from the Northern Territory Government Department of Education: Industry Engagement and Employment Pathways division, who have displayed exceptional flexibility and understanding in relation to the funding of this initiative.  We also appreciated the on-ground support in Alice Springs from the Southern Region Department.

Finally, a few words about the outstanding trainees who participated in this program.

The students exceeded all expectations in relation to the outcomes achieved; they represented their school and themselves with pride and determination in a mature and well-mannered fashion at all times during the training.

As young indigenous people, they have displayed the very best of their culture and demonstrated the great potential of the young people living in remote communities throughout Australia - for all to see!

With such discipline and focus (thanks to a great school environment) and with the underpinning knowledge and skills they have achieved through this pilot, we are positive that success is just around the corner for these program participants. 

All at the Civil Contractors Federation, Civil Train NT & SA wish each participant of this program the very best with their future endeavours!


Donna McAskill, Pathways Co-ordinator, Yirara College:

“Typically, our students are slow at developing relationships with ‘outsiders’.  Mark Hopkins and Matthew Schaftenaar broke down all barriers and engaged students right from the beginning.  Matt was clear about his expectations, the purpose and outcomes of the training, culturally respectful and his passion for training the students was evident.  The trainer of any course is often the indicator of success or failure, our students gained success beyond a certificate or units, they have hope and a belief in a better future. 

Observations (during and after) of students who participated in the course:

  • Attendance excellent, and being on time
  • Fully engaged, real learning with purpose
  • Well- being, pride, and a sense of success and accomplishment
  • Visualise real employment
  • Better engagement in class after course, increased desire to learn
  • Confidence and belief that ‘they can’

The real excitement and concentration of students during tasks or assessments was evident after day one.  There were moments when students felt they were unable to continue as it was ‘too hard’, Matt discussed with them how close they were to finishing and due to the strong relationship he had developed with them they were willing to trust him and successfully complete.”

Andrew Oliver, Director Industry Engagement and Employment Pathways, Department of Education, Northern Territory Government:

“Excellent training outcomes…. It shows to me what can be achieved when a school works closely with a provider to increase the knowledge and skills of their students. This is particularly important for those students in a boarding facility who will return to community at some stage and will have the skills to be important and valued members of that community.  Once again, well done and keep up the good work.”