Jamahl Byrne, a 20-year-old tradesman with Hansen Ford and Mareeba Toyota in Mareeba, near Cairns, is the MTA Institute Apprentice of the Year for 2016. Presented with the award at the MTA Queensland President’s Ball it was, said Jamahl, a nerve-wracking experience as his name was called as this year’s winner.

“I was trying to contain my heartbeat to be honest,” he said. “It went from stable to a million miles an hour.”

Among those who travelled from North Queensland to attend the Ball with Jamahl were his parents Elsy and David and it comes as no surprise to hear they were ecstatic with his win.

“I think my dad nearly shed a tear and he and mum informed the whole family straight away,” said Jamahl. “She had a couple of shots of me receiving the award on her Facebook page before I even got back to our table. And that post went from 0 to 100 comments pretty quickly!”

It has been a fantastic year for Jamahl. He completed his light vehicle apprenticeship in December 2015 and an ongoing commitment to training with Toyota and Ford means he is well on his way to reaching master technician status for both companies.

Though it was Jamahl who did the hard training yards to reach this point, he is quick to highlight his father’s influence. The duo spent a lot of time together over the years restoring classic cars and when his dad realised Jamahl had ambitions for a career in the auto industry, he worked hard to help his son reach that goal.

“Dad put his heart and soul into encouraging me and helping me to become a mechanic,” said Jamahl. “He taught me about older vehicles and really pushed to help me get this job and get me into the industry. A lot of what has happened is down to him and for me to receive this award really means a lot to him.”

Of course, it wasn’t just Jamahl’s father who was proud of his achievement. Family and friends flooded Jamahl with calls of congratulations and when he returned to work the Monday after the Ball, colleagues were quick to add their congratulations too –  in a typically workshop-style, tongue-in-cheek fashion.

“They took the mickey out of me for most of the morning,” joked Jamahl. “I got called all sorts of names and when I suggested something about a job, or when someone suggested something to me, they would do a slight bow when they walked away!”

Joking aside, it is, of course, the environment in which an apprentice works that helps form them, and their trainers, employers and colleagues play a vital role in their development. Jamahl is extremely grateful for the guidance he received from both his MTA Institute trainer Steve Buckley and his colleagues at Hansen Ford and Mareeba Toyota. In return, there is real pride in his achievement.

“We are extremely proud of him,” said Luke Micklewright, the company’s service manager. “As an apprentice, Jamahl worked very hard and was always looking to do extra work. The minute he qualified he was busting to get online and do more training with Toyota and Ford. In fact, in this past year, he has worked so hard that he has overtaken everyone else in the workshop as far as the Toyota training side of the business goes.”

It is, said Luke, Jamahl’s passion for the industry and personal drive that made him a stand-out apprentice and now a highly-valued tradesman.

“He is genuinely interested in cars, and genuinely interested in furthering his career,” he said. “Now that he is qualified, I know he will go as far as he can with Toyota and Ford and we will have to work to keep him interested and challenged. But that is a great problem for us to have. There are many kids who think things should just be handed to them but Jamahl is not like that – he knows that rewards come when you put in the hard yards.”

Jamahl is now tasting a few of those rewards – the MTA Institute Apprentice of the Year award comes with some very desirable benefits including a $2000 prize and, this year, the opportunity to work with Triple Eight Race Engineering at next year’s Townsville V8 Supercar event.

While Jamahl said the money would help fund a trip to Japan next year, to work with Triple Eight was a truly exciting opportunity.

“That is the pinnacle,” he said “I’ve always been a racing nut. Dad and I have been watching V8 Supercars since I was knee high to a grasshopper and it would be a tremendous achievement if I was to ever get into the racing industry and work at such a high level. The week with Triple Eight could, potentially, mean a start in that industry so I will do everything I can to show them what I am made of.”

Whatever happens, it is clear Jamahl is set to enjoy a long and successful career in the automotive industry – a fact that Luke Micklewright recognised early on.

“Jamahl aspires to more than working on the shop floor,” he said. “He knows in years to come he will move into a leadership role and he will be a great ambassador for the industry.”