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Ready, set, reno’: How Apprenticeships Queensland are building futures for young tradies

21 Mar 2023

‘The Building Futures program, set up by Apprenticeships Queensland in partnership with TAFE Queensland, involves the purchase of old homes in dire need of a renovation. Apprentices and students tackling their Certificate I in Construction help to renovate. Apprentice Employment Network QLD & NT Chair and Apprentices Queensland General Manager Paul Hillberg shares how this project came to life and the long-reaching impact it’s having.

Six years ago, AEN QLD & NT Chair and Apprenticeships Queensland General Manager Paul Hillberg spied an important pathway missing between school-based apprentices and their employers.

“Young aspiring tradies tackling their Certificate I in Construction weren’t gaining little real life experience," he said, “and employers were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of preparation and skills those apprentices held.”

Armed with decades of experience, a good dose of pragmatism and spades of empathy, Mr Hillberg drilled down to the core of the dilemma.

“Students have so much happening in their lives and so of course they are going to forget some of what they learned during a school-based apprenticeship,” he said.

“Afterall, how on earth are you supposed to be composed enough at such a young and difficult age to understand and take in what people say to you? Let alone move into a workplace for the first time?

“I then realised I could help young apprentices get the worksite experience they needed to better handle the transition by developing the Building Futures program.”

The Apprenticeships Queensland program, which was set up in partnership with TAFE Queensland. Involves the purchasing of old homes in dire need of a renovation, that apprentices and students tackling their Certificate I in Construction could then help renovate, while learning the essential tools of the trade.

Over the course of a year, with the help of mentors, the cohort would return the old Queenslanders or post-war cottages to their former glory, giving students an introduction to real life construction sites alongside the ability to see the remarkable fruits of their labour.

Apprenticeships Queensland would then sell the house to fund the next project, with all profits poured back into the program.

Six years and five homes later, Building Futures has not only been dubbed a rip roaring success, but it’s changing the lives of young, aspiring tradies.

“This program is helping students build a rich awareness of the industry and it’s quite unique from a Group Training Organisation point of view because it’s not a weekly money making scheme for us,” Mr Hillberg said.

“That onsite experience is just as important as the Certificate, but it’s also far more than that. It’s an immersive experience with mentors that genuinely care and look out for the students and apprentices. 

“And on top of that it’s giving us the chance to take old, often neglected homes and return them to their former glory.

“On the first home we tackled, which was a rundown home at Hill Street, North Ipswich, we made a profit of $5000 but the real reward was much more,” Mr Hillberg said.

“All the vertical joints had been covered up by Masonite but we were able to unveil this gorgeous cottage by taking all that away and uncovering these beautiful breezeways and putting a massive deck out the back.

“It was about bringing back what had been taken away.”

After Hill Street, Mr Hillberg said they tackled an 1890s house in Williams Street, Woodend, followed by a cottage in East Ipswich, a large old Queenslander at Sadliers Crossing and – last year – another quaint cottage at Flint Street, North Ipswich.

“Flint Street was owned by a man who had simply run out of money and could no longer afford to fix up the home. He even had a bucket next to the loo to flush it,” Mr Hillberg said.

“It was unlivable. We had to fix the roof, open up the front space and bring the home back to the way it was constructed.

“When we renovate these homes we modernise them while keeping the heritage façade and that’s exactly what we did here.

“We relayed flooring, prepped and painted internally and externally, fixed the termite damage in the bathroom and even built stairs, which is not something our students get to do very often.

“They were even able to tackle the timber landscaping and help construct the rear deck and cladding around the carport area.”

Mr Hillberg said a total of eight apprentices and 50 Certificate I students came in and out of the home over the course of the year, with parents invited to see the remarkable finished product at the end of 2022.

They’re now gearing up for the next extreme makeover adventure at Hawthorne Street in Woodend, with construction set to kick off in March and enrolments already filling up fast.

“It feels amazing to see these students grow, learn, be supported and achieve the incredible feat of renovating a home, and it’s one of those things that you just can’t put a price on,” Mr Hillberg said,

“And that’s what's great about working for community organisations such as ours. You have the scope to help beyond just running an organisation to get people jobs.”

In the coming months, Apprenticeships Queensland will work their extreme makeover magic on a yellow worker’s cottage at Hawthorne Street, Woodend, with a crew of students and apprentices set to start work shortly.

For this project, Mr Hillberg said they were aiming to make it a more inclusive experience for female tradies, with plans to bring in more female mentors and tradespeople.

“With women making up just three per cent of skilled trades in Queensland, we’re hoping that by bringing in more female mentors it will make the learning space more comfortable and inspiring for women, while also playing a part in shifting those numbers.”

For more information about the Building Futures program, visit

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