Deborah Tyrrell (b. 1962)
Engineering patternmaking business manager and owner, CAD technician, Sydney
They were very stressful, difficult learning times, but we have got there. The reseller for the Mastercam … he used to go and everybody would say,
“Well, how difficult is it?”
“Well, I’ve trained a fifty-year-old housewife how to do it, so yeah, you can do it if you’re determined enough!” So, more or less, I have learnt SolidWorks and I have learnt Mastercam. I have not had any formal training in either, so it’s been a big learning curve.
Hiring a patternmaker is very difficult. Going back, when we first started, yes there were some, but I would probably be able to name all the qualified patternmakers in New South Wales that were working, and there’s not very many of them. The younger guys have almost all gone out into the building trade, where their skills are highly sought after. And there’s just so few of us. When we advertised for the apprentice patternmaker, he was the only phone call out of three weeks’ worth of ads. And again, speaking to other patternmakers, they’ve had the exact same issue. … They haven’t had any applicants.
I think there’s … more of an issue of the lack of value [Australia] puts in tradespeople, and, from there, a lack of understanding of patternmaking as well. More or less, people don’t value trades … I’d say they’re starting to value tradies a bit more again now, but there was a stage when they were very lowly-valued and more or less everybody was encouraged to go to university, and then because we were then even one of the lesser-known trades, we had even wider repercussions in that area.
So we are even losing the ability to train people up to do these things. And we’re not being phased out because of technology: we’re getting phased out because it’s being moved offshore, and with the Aussie dollar where it is now, back down, and the wages that have gone up in China, it’s not necessarily cheaper to manufacture in China anymore. But all these big companies have taken it offshore, they’ve set up over there, and it’s all running over there, and in the meantime, companies here that do that style of work have gone, or wound right back. Even when they try to bring it back in, half of what they need is not here any longer. So we’re losing the ability as a country to be self-sustainable.
We should be looking at added value in Australia. Not taking our raw materials and sending them offshore, having them processed offshore, and then buying them back at astronomical prices.
Deborah Tyrrell’s interview is held in the National Library of Australia.