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How to become an Apprentice Watchmaker in Australia

Watch and Clock repairing in Australia is a potentially endangered profession. However there is a huge demand for competent and qualified tradepersons. The majority of Australians wear watches - in fact, many of us own more than one. Vintage and antique watches are enjoying a well-deserved (renaissance) resurrection, and are in need of the services of a qualified, highly skilled and well educated repairers for maintenance. Modern quartz watches also need repairs, batteries or capacitors replaced correctly, and general maintenance.

In 2015 as part of the introduction of the NSW government Smart and Skilled funding model the Sydney TAFE's watch and clock repair course for watchmaking apprentices had its hours drastically cut. There were fears for some time that the course would in fact cease to exist, in which case would-be watch or clock makers would have to conduct all studies in the workplace or look to study overseas for qualifications in the trade. However the peak industry body WCA was very active in its campaign to lobby politicians, and TAFE management for the continuation of support for training in thin markets like watch and clock making The Sydney TAFE is currently the only full time school in providing Horological training in Australia for the training of apprentices, ably captained by teacher Trent Firth. 2016 is the 70th anniversary of the watchmaking school starting way back in 1946 as part of the good old Sydney Tech.

Graduating students for 2016 came from New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. There were 8 in the class.

The clock and watch repairs course has been reduced to 6 blocks in the year, totalling 125 hours per year over 3 years. The entire apprenticeship takes 4 years. This leaves much of the training and instructing to be done in-house, as the apprentices' employers both support and add to the TAFE course teachings. Not a problem as such, because this has always been the case to an extent.

Where the problem does lie, is for a busy watchmaking business to take so much extra time out of its working day to do the added teaching and assistance that the previous TAFE course would have done with the extra time apprentices spent at the TAFE course. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for the TAFE teacher to try and compress as much as possible of the previous course into the reduced hours.

Watch repairers are in business to maintain and repair timepieces - a worthy goal in itself, but we need to make enough money out of it to pay wages and to live on ourselves. This becomes increasingly difficult when trying to do the additional teaching now required in the workplace, as it takes time away from the qualified watchmaker who is both trying to instruct the apprentice whilst carrying their own workload. This in turn has the potential to impact on family lives when the watchmaker spends extra time at work to cover that workload.

The Certificate III Watch and Clock Service and Repair course at Sydney TAFE is currently approved for 2017, with a number of apprentices already enrolled from New South Wales and Queensland, which is truly good news. However it could be beneficial to go back to the previous apprenticeship regime with nearly double the hours under qualified instruction at the TAFE but to do that they would need more students in the class.

Watchmaking apprenticeship training is a partnership between the watchmakers TAFE course, the employer and the apprentice. A working balance between all three can only be beneficial to the future of this profession, as we all strive to produce highly qualified watchmakers of the future. Thomas' Timepieces currently employs a 4th year apprentice.

The Sydney TAFE clock and watch repair course, as previously stated, is 6 blocks per year (125 hours yearly) over 3 years, with a 4 year apprenticeship. For more information about the Sydney TAFE course, the details are below.

Course details

  • Sydney TAFE Campus, Ultimo NSW 2007
  • Course Name: Cert III Watch and Clock Service and Repair
  • Instructor: Trenton Firth
  • Phone: (02) 9217 3177
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