09/12/2013 - 11:27

Training provider expands operation

09/12/2013 - 11:27

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A slowdown in mining investment has many companies cutting costs, but this hasn’t stopped WA Skills Training owner Bob Butson from making a $5 million investment in new premises in Welshpool.

Training provider expands operation
NEW TRICKS: Bob Butson sees plenty of opportunities ahead for skills training despite a slowdown in the resources sector. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A slowdown in mining investment has many companies cutting costs, but this hasn’t stopped WA Skills Training owner Bob Butson from making a $5 million investment in new premises in Welshpool.

Mr Butson hopes to have the new 5,500 square metre training centre fully operational by February next year, with local council approvals the only major barrier to completion.

What separates the new facilities from those offered by other training organisations, according to Mr Butson, is their scale, allowing onsite work practices to be recreated more accurately.

“They’re going to be working off full-scale buildings,” Mr Butson told Business News.

“My rigging frame is going to be eight metres high. To comply with the standards it only needed to be four metres but when you get out in reality, eight metres is nothing. You’re working in steel much higher up.”

The company plans to consolidate its two current facilities in East Perth into the new building, while retaining its head office in Bunbury.

The new digs are a far cry from when Mr Butson started the company in a shed on his farm in Donnybrook in the mid-1990s.

Dissatisfied with his experiences working as a Tafe lecturer, Mr Butson saw an opportunity in the market to provide companies with more hands-on skills training.

He admits it was tough going at first. One major project would only send its workers for training when bad weather prevented work, forcing him to scramble to deploy the staff needed to train hundreds of workers at short notice.

“If it wasn’t raining they weren’t talking to us, but then the minute it rained they wanted 20 trainers,” Mr Butson said.

“Trainers are costing you money if they’re working or not working, so juggling that was a nightmare.”

With a vast number of mining and construction projects coming online during the past decade and a greater focus on compliance with occupational safety standards, the business has moved to a steadier workflow and now offers regular training courses to some of the state’s biggest resources players, including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

The company has grown to employ 80 staff, and Mr Butson expects it will deliver a turnover of about $12 million this year.

WA Skills Training is also the preferred training provider for two of the state’s biggest resources projects – Chevron’s $29 billion Wheatstone LNG project, and Hancock Prospecting’s $10 billion Roy Hill iron ore mine.

The company is training workers for Wheatstone in Thailand, where the bulk of the development and construction of infrastructure for the project is happening, and has previously delivered training across Asia, Africa and the US.

All of the company’s trainers are based in Perth and are mobilised across the country or overseas as demand dictates.

While many miners and contractors have looked to cut costs amid commodity price volatility and a slowdown in investment over the past year, Mr Butson said most of the company’s clients recognised investing in training as an essential spending measure.

“Mistakes slow you down,” he said.

“Training is value-added; the smaller companies see it as a cost, when it’s actually a saving.

“If you train them properly the first time, you don’t have your downtimes. Things are done faster, better and safer.”

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