Lab support, anyone?

October 1999

RMIT University offers trade training in such fields as information technology, digital image printing, multimedia and crowd control. Another is laboratory skills. The Certificate III Traineeship prepares skilled lab assistants for roles in research institutes, teaching, government departments and analytical services.

Simon Sleigh doesn’t fit the ‘trainee’ stereotype: he doesn’t work in plumbing, electrical or manufacturing, and he’s forty years old. Simon’s story is evidence that apprenticeships and traineeships are increasingly opening worlds of opportunity for a range of people.

"Photo of Marina Palumbo"

Simon studies at RMIT in conjunction with his employment at DNA Solutions Pty Ltd. Based at Monash University’s Clayton campus, this company tests human hair for parent-sibling identification and tests feathers for bird sexing.

"Hair DNA offers an extremely painless means of paternity testing, and there has never been a safer technique for sexing than from bird feathers," Simon said.

Simon plays an important role in both commercial activities. He is responsible for extracting DNA from the subject’s hair or feather and promoting its growth until it reaches a level that allows conclusive analysis by DNA specialists.

According to Simon, DNA Solutions is a leader in a global market niche.

"We are one of only two institutions world-wide who test hair for DNA, and the only one in Australia. Our bird sexing operation attracts a range of international and domestic clients, from zoos in Europe and Asia to bird clubs and hobbyist breeders locally," he said.

Another laboratory skills trainee, nineteen-year-old Marina Palumbo (pictured above), works at EML Consulting Services in Surrey Hills, Melbourne. The company is involved in measuring the bacteria levels of consumer goods, ranging from food and drinks to health and beauty products.

"Essentially, much of my work helps determine whether various goods are safe for human consumption or application. In microbiology terms, the process of identifying bacteria levels of any given product is referred to as a plate count," Marina explained.

Marina is also involved in testing Melbourne’s water supply, identifying from samples whether it is fit for domestic use. This is a major contract for EML.

Alan Montague, manager of apprenticeships and traineeships at RMIT University, said Simon and Marina’s positions showed that apprenticeship and traineeship training was increasingly impacting on all industry sectors.

"Apprenticeships and traineeships are structured, competency-based packages designed by industry, for industry. This training is responsive to industry needs, boosting the productivity of companies that employ apprentices or trainees and the industry as a whole," he said.

Lab skills trainee Steven Zonneveld, also nineteen, is employed at RMIT, working mainly in the Department of Health and Clinical Sciences. As departmental lab technician, Steven is responsible for premixing solutions for diploma students’ practical work, maintaining and appropriately storing all chemical stocks and ensuring health and safety regulations are observed.

"My position here is forever changing. Generally I help out wherever the most diploma students are located at any given time, be it myotherapy, dental technology or lab technology," Steven said.

Alan Montague said the Certificate III in Laboratory Skills package presents RMIT departments with an opportunity to recruit lab assistants whilst supporting another university activity.

"Apprentices and trainees learn and develop in their work environment. Departments requiring support or considering recruitment should discuss the apprenticeship and traineeship option, be it [in] laboratory skills for lab assistants, office administration for administration officers or receptionists, or information technology for network support staff," he said.

Information: e-mail Alan Montague tel. 9925 3828, or visit the apprenticeships and traineeships web