MTA Queensland announces 2020 Apprentice of the Year

Since 2013, MTA Queensland and the MTA Institute have been recognising outstanding Queensland automotive apprentices through its Apprentice of the Year program.
The finalists for the award come from the talented group of students named as Apprentice of the Month award winners throughout the preceding year – from September through to August – and, under normal circumstances, the prestigious Apprentice of the Year award would be presented to the winner at the MTA Queensland Industry Dinner – a lavish event that brings together leaders and stakeholders from across the automotive industry.

However, in 2020, the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has altered what is considered ‘normal’ and this year – and as a precaution that many other associations and businesses have taken for their own conventions, seminars, exhibitions and the like – MTA Queensland cancelled its industry dinner celebration.

What was not cancelled was the desire to acknowledge the hard work and talent of the apprentices training with MTA Institute. While COVID-19 may well have played havoc with our lives, the business of the automotive industry across Queensland has continued, and the thousands of apprentices at businesses large and small across the state continue to strive diligently on their journey to earning their trade.

And so, on October 16, MTA Queensland held a COVID-safe Apprentice of the Year award ceremony at the association’s head office in Brisbane.
Hosted by MTA Institute General Manager Paul Kulpa, the event was attended by many of the finalists – along with their friends, families and colleagues – and, for the first time, MTA Queensland live-streamed the ceremony on the internet, enabling finalists who could not attend in person – as well as many others interested in the outcome – to participate from afar.


While the circumstances of the award ceremony were unusual, the excitement surrounding the announcement was as powerful as ever, and that announcement – made by Leeanne Turner, CEO of MTAA Super, via video message – named Gabrielle Clift as MTA Queensland’s Apprentice of the Year for 2020.

It has been a stunning year of success for Gabrielle – the 21-year-old, third-year, light vehicle apprentice from Highfields Mechanical near Toowoomba. Having secured the Apprentice of the Month award back in December, she was named as Capricorn’s Rising Star Apprentice of the Year in July, and now claims the MTA Queensland top apprentice crown.

To say she was shocked and happy with her latest achievement would be an understatement.

“It is very humbling,” she said. “I know that the other apprentices – those nominated for the MTA Queensland award as well as those nominated for the Capricorn award – all work extremely hard, so to be nominated for, and then to win, both those awards is a dream come true.

“I remember sitting there and listening to each of the finalists’ stories and thinking, ‘Wow, these guys are incredible and all stars in their own field,’ she added. “Their employers and trainers spoke so highly of them and that is really a credit to them and an indication of their work. So, yes, I was shocked. I think I stopped breathing for a second when my named was called!

“I worked really hard this year and I know that when I was nominated last December, I had the attitude that, ‘I really want this. I will work really hard for this’. To see that hard work pay off is really awesome.”

Having started her automotive training as a heavy commercial vehicle apprentice in Moree in northern NSW, Gabrielle moved to Queensland a couple of years ago and was able to secure a light vehicle apprenticeship position with Highfields Mechanical. Owners Craig and Katherine Baills, who attended the Apprentice of the Year ceremony with Gabrielle, were delighted with the result. It was, they said, a reflection of just how hard Gabrielle works and how much talent she has.

“To get an apprentice or apprentices to a point where we can nominate them, or they can be nominated by someone else, for these awards, is something we always wanted to achieve as far as an apprentice program goes,” said Craig. “It means we are putting them on the right path, and that is awesome from our point of view.

“Gabrielle is very driven to succeed and wants to be the best that she can be and reach high levels in the trade. And that is an attitude that you can’t teach – it has to come with the person.”

Investing the time and effort into training apprentices was, said Craig, very important. Not only does it provide a first step on a career pathway for those looking to get into the industry, but it is vital to the future of the industry as a whole.

“They are the future of the trade and Gabrielle has all those attributes that can take her wherever she wants to go,” he said. “This trade opens a lot of doors. Whether you want to stay on the tools, start your own business, go into other avenues, there are a lot of doors it can open. And her ability and attitude will open a great deal of doors. She has a very sound and solid foundation to move forward to whatever she wants to do.

“When you find good apprentices then everybody benefits, and if we have had an influence on our apprentices to be the best they can be, then we have left our legacy in the industry.”

For Gabrielle, the future could hardly look brighter, and she is fully aware of the advantage she has enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, while working and training at Highfields and with the MTA Institute as she considers where her future might take her.

“Being here with Craig – with all the experience, knowledge, tools and technology we have here – together with the training through the MTA Institute, has made the world of difference to me,” she said.

“I love what I do, and the plan is definitely to stay with Highfields Mechanical for quite a while,” she added.

“I want to look into the auto-electrical side of things and go in-depth on diagnostics and so on. So, the plan is to do all these things but not to put a time limit on it. Just work and gain more knowledge.”

Part of that expanding knowledge will include ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) calibration services. It’s a relatively new, but increasingly important, area for the automotive industry to consider, and thanks to Craig and Katherine Baills establishing their new business, Hi-Mech Auto Solutions, to focus on delivering ADAS maintenance, testing, repair and calibration services, Gabrielle will be exposed to this new technology early in her career.

“It is a new ballgame. I have been involved with a couple of calibrations and it is something new and I love it,” she said. “I am extremely fortunate that Katherine and Craig have put the investment into ADAS,” she added. “To be one of the first to get to look at it, especially through my apprenticeship, is pretty cool. Most apprentices won’t get to see this for a long time, so to be at the forefront and see it first-hand now is very exciting.”

Perhaps also exciting is deciding what to do with the $2000 prize money she received for winning the Apprentice of the Year award.

“I think I will be saving it and putting it toward a house,” she said. “If I spend it now, it will 100 per cent go to go-kart parts or be spent on my ute. I love my kart and I love my ute but, at the end of the day, a house is probably the smarter decision!”

Gabrielle no doubt has a tremendous future ahead of her in the automotive industry, and that holds true for all the very talented and hardworking Apprentice of the Year finalists.

And with this year’s finalist group covering a wide range of ages and including three women in their number, it made for an especially exciting snapshot of what is happening in the industry and what can be achieved by anyone with a passion for automotive.

“Once again, the quality of the nominees was very high,” said Paul Kulpa, General Manager of the MTA Institute. “We had nominees from all over Queensland and it was great to see they represented multiple industry sectors, including light vehicle, motorcycle, panel beating and auto electrical.

“The diversity of the nominees also showed there is no barrier to selection. We had teenagers, mature age, male and female apprentices up for the award and that demonstrates that with the right attitude and commitment, there’s a good chance you can be nominated.

“As for Gabrielle, she has all the attributes to go far in the automotive industry,” he added. “She wants to do well and is keen to adapt to the changing industry, which is a great attribute.

Her employers couldn’t speak more highly of her and I think anyone who talks to her would feel inspired about what she’d be able to do as a future industry leader.”

Source: Motor Trader e-Magazine (November 2020)

11 November 2020