The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought uncertainty and disarray to many of our lives. Some of us have had to adopt new ways of working and learning, but as disruptive as the pandemic has been, we are determined to keep the work and education of our graduates and apprentices as normal and as focused as possible.
Hands-on learning with our apprentices
Lisa Briggs is the apprentice and trainee coordinator at AGL Loy Yang.
'We have 22 apprentices currently here,’ Lisa said, ‘and the question we’re really focused on is: how can we make sure they continue to get the most out of their apprenticeship?’
‘We really want to balance making sure we’re looking after them from a safety point of view with making sure that their time learning is as undisrupted as possible.
They came to a simple – and effective solution.
‘Normally we have apprentices rotating through the station and the mine regularly, so they get experience in every aspect of the site,’ she said.
‘With some of the measures we’ve put in place to protect our sites and our people, that became a lot trickier.
‘Instead of interrupting their apprenticeship, we decided to move all the apprentices to the mine. They all rotate through a placement at the mine at some point, and it’s a lot easier to follow measures like social distancing on the much larger site – so it was quite an effective solution, and it allows them to continue in as normal a fashion as possible.
‘The safety of our apprentices and trainees is really important to us – and we also want to make sure that none of them are disadvantaged because of the pandemic.’
Maddi Cornwall is one of those 22 apprentices working at AGL Loy Yang – a first-year boilermaker.
‘A boilermaker is basically a welder,’ Maddi said with a laugh, ‘and I’ve come into the apprenticeship not knowing a great deal about the energy industry or having a lot of welding experience.’
‘I was nervous when I actually started. What if I didn’t like it, or what it I was rubbish at it? But I’m enjoying it so much.
Maddi Cornwall (right) with fellow apprentices
‘It’s amazing how complex power stations are, and the variety of things I was working on in my rotations. I’ve spoken to tradies who’ve been working here for 30 years, and they still don’t know everything about the stations – that’s how important it is to have such a variety of experts on site.
‘It’s the same in the mines – I’m working on all kinds of things, from checking pipe maintenance and fixing handrails, right up to working on the massive dredgers.’
One of the dredgers at AGL Loy Yang that Maddi works on. Operator for scale.
‘The biggest effect it’s having on me at the moment is that I haven’t been able to go to trade school. Learning by Zoom is a little bit tricky obviously – there’s a lot of practical stuff that we can’t do by video call.
That difficulty may have hidden a blessing in disguise, however, with her theory learning being bolstered by more hands-on practical learning.
‘What I have been able to do is take my work onto site regularly and ask the experienced people on the job about it,’ she said.
‘Everybody’s been pretty helpful, so it’s been good in that way.’
Even though it’s early in Maddi’s journey, she knows she made the right choice for her.
‘This is what I want to do,’ she said emphatically.
‘I didn’t want to go to uni – I wanted to get a trade, and something that would set me up for my life. I applied, thinking I wasn’t going to be successful – and then I got the call, and I was so excited! I felt so, so relieved.
‘Being able to keep working through the coronavirus - it’s a big relief. I have family and friends affected – my uncle’s a casual worker, for example. I feel relieved, and so lucky that my apprenticeship’s been able to go ahead as normal as it can.’
Supporting our grads – on-site and off
Young starters on our operational sites aren’t the only people we’re supporting through this time. Our corporate graduates have also seen major disruption, with most of AGL’s corporate staff moving to a work-from-home model for the duration.
Joy Marrocco is a senior manager in AGL’s Digital Centre of Excellence (COE); she is mentoring graduate digital associate Ellen Anastasia.
‘Our challenge has been adapting to this current situation,’ Joy said.
‘A huge part of a graduate’s learning is the exposure to a corporate environment: seeing how people speak, how they make decisions, what to do in meetings. That’s been complicated somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m consciously inviting Ellen to as many meetings as I can to expose her to this virtually now.
Graduates Tara Goodwin, Ellen Anastasia, and Grace Slatcher
From Ellen’s point of view, while the logistics around meetings might have changed, the personalities and the opportunities have not.
‘I’m always surprised by how friendly and helpful everyone is - there are no silly questions,’ she said, ‘And at the amazing learning opportunities. Even as a grad I was given the opportunity to be involved in some major projects.
Fellow graduate Grace Slatcher agrees around the challenge – but is also making the most of the opportunity.
‘Working from home due to COVID-19 has definitely been the biggest unexpected challenge. It was difficult getting used to it but everyone at AGL is so supportive and understanding of each other during these times. Having team catch ups has also helped make it feel less isolating.’
Grace’s mentor, COE delivery/tribe lead Tim Gerber, is effusive with praise at how the graduates have adapted to the changing work conditions.
‘Graduates just keep getting better,’ he said. ‘I was never this good at 20! Grace has come in, fresh from university and has taken on the challenge of remote work, with a massive increase in output. Her contribution is always valuable.’
And supporting graduates and apprentices is absolutely vital for other, more subtle reasons, said Meera Shanaaz Aneez, a platform architecture senior manager in the Integrated Energy Technology team.
‘Bringing graduates into AGL – and supporting them wherever we can to succeed – is one of the ways we can support gender equality in the workforce, Meera said.
‘Only 17% of software developers are female in the market. We can’t change this. But encouraging them as early as possible, getting primary and secondary school girls interested in tech, showing uni students what technology roles and careers are possible, and finally giving opportunities through graduate programs for young women to see for themselves, these are tangible things we can do to increase the number of women in technology industries.’
Meera’s mentee, Tara Goodwin, has not allowed the pandemic or the disruption around it to shake her goals and her values – not at all.
‘I have an interest in energy as it is such a big part of everyone’s lives,’ Tara said.
‘I like AGL as they invest so much into sustainable practices. I believe that we need to look after our environment.
‘For me, being part of AGL allows me to do my part in making a difference.’