An Apprentices' Insight to Australian Watchmaking

People often consider Watchmaking a dying art, but I think of it as an endangered species, watchmakers as the white rhinos, and the Government the hunters. It is not due to lack of work, but lack of knowledge, and a small number of apprentices in the trade. Watchmaking is not often the most obvious choice in an apprenticeship for most young people and recent government cuts make it more difficult to bring new apprentices to the trade.

As a third year apprentice, I take Government industry cuts to the watchmaking profession personally. The Government is slowly killing this age-old profession purely because it doesn't attract the same volume of students as the more popular apprenticeships like baking or mechanics.

Instead of funding to help the survival of watchmaking, the Government implement cuts, thus reducing hours at TAFE, which results in tradesmen who are less qualified than their predecessors. In my current employment, I'm in the fortunate position of working with a variety of timepieces, from grandfather clocks to quartz wristwatches. Seeing many varied problems on all types of watches and clocks, gives me a greater opportunity to understand my trade.

Unfortunately for many other apprentices, they do not have the chance to work on such a variety of timepieces, both complicated and unusual. TAFE is often the only opportunity for these students to work on a variety of mechanical timepieces. With the shortened course implemented this year, an added stress has been put on both my employer and myself in reaching the standard of skill and knowledge that is expected of a qualified watchmaker.

As students we are expected to cover the same topics as in previous years in half the amount of time at TAFE, leaving the remaining time to be completed in the workplace instead of performing paying repairs to support the business, and therefore ensuring future employment in the industry.

The Government require 15 students per class for funding, in 2015 these numbers were not met. This resulted in postponement of first year classes. There is a likelihood 2016 may be the final year for graduates unless we can bring people into the trade, and tradesmen put on apprentices, which is something they may be less willing to do with costs increasing and an uncertainty as to whether this will result in a qualified watchmaker at the end of their time.

Qualifications do not necessarily equip one with the skills to train an apprentice, it takes time to convey the knowledge a watchmaker has obtained over the years, and lack of experience could possibly hinder the trade more than help it. I would love to say this trade is secure and there is nothing to worry about, but without Government assistance, watchmaking is destined for the same fate as the car manufacturing industry.

The future of watchmaking is so fragile at this point in time, and without us doing everything we can it may never be repaired. I had hoped that when the time was right I would be able to train an apprentice myself and pass on my knowledge but unfortunately I no longer foresee that as a viable possibility. It appears that I may be one of the last watchmakers trained in this country for this noble profession.

Without a TAFE course in this country, Switzerland or Hong Kong would be the main alternatives to the calibre of education we receive in Sydney, something the majority of tradesman would be unable to do because they would have to send someone away for four years at an enormous cost without them putting back into the business during that time. For the government to put this pressure onto watchmakers is outrageous and unacceptable.

Update: Luke Slavin was interviewed in the Maitland Mercury following this article


Additional

The introduction this year of 'Smart and Skilled' by the NSW government has had a deleterious effect on the Australian Watchmaking trade.

The TAFE in Sydney offers the only remaining course for watch and clock servicing and repair in Australia.

This course is attended by watchmaking apprentices from NSW, Victoria, Qld, SA and Tasmania.

The introduction of Smart and Skilled has resulted in 2nd and 3rd year apprentices' hours being reduced from 288 hours to 125 hours, with increased TAFE fees. It is impossible for the same quality of instruction and practical teaching to be maintained with this drastic reduction in teaching hours.

The onus is then put upon the supervising watchmaker in the workforce to increase the amount of time spent teaching their apprentice. This decreased formal instruction will undoubtedly have a direct flow-on effect in the future quality of timepiece repairs in Australia.

Apprentices beginning their first year were initially informed that their course for their future career may no longer be provided. Now, it has apparently been decided that a 1st year course will begin mid-year, though also with drastically reduced teaching hours. There is however, no guarantee that there will be a 1st year course next year.

Is 2015 to be the finish of new apprenticeships in the watchmaking profession?

This has the direct consequences of affecting the future of our industry. If new clock and watch repairers are not adequately trained, there will be no one to replace the currently predominantly aging workforce, and may result in years to come in timepiece repairs being sent overseas for repair. Surely there is a case to be made for supporting the lesser known but important trades in Australia. This decision seems to show a lack of foresight on the part of those making such decisions.

If this course is closed to future apprentices , there may be no future for this trade in Australia

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