A masterful apprentice (2019)

After cementing himself as WesTrac's best apprentice, Scott McKenzie competed in the global Cat Apprentice of the Year competition (2019).


As a kid growing up on a farm in Coonamble, Scott McKenzie had a three pronged plan for when he grew up. “I wanted to play football, be in the army, and be a heavy diesel plant mechanic.”

Now, that’s pretty specific stuff, but Scott managed to achieve his goals. After playing Rugby League with the Sydney Roosters, Scott joined the army where he served for a number of years before a medical discharge cut his military career short. “Then I started looking for work, but it was during the mining downturn, so there wasn’t really anything out there.”

It took a year for Scott to find his job as a Heavy Duty Diesel Mechanic at WesTrac’s Dubbo branch. “When I applied I was one of 200 applicants, so when I got the job I was really grateful and wanted to really make the most of it.”

Applying the diligence that served him well on the footy field, and in the army, Scott would put his hand up for any work going, and served out his apprenticeship in record time. “Coming from a farm, being on a football team and being part of a military unit mean I've developed a strong work ethic,” Scott says. And this team effort was bolstered by his new workmates. “The guys at WesTrac were awesome. Everyone at the branch was so friendly and helpful and I knew that I could call anyone for help, and they’d get back to me no matter what I needed.”

He’s now working in a team of 20 at the WesTrac Cobar branch, a small mining town in Central Western NSW. When you’re starting an apprenticeship it can be daunting, whether you’re 17 years old straight out of school, or a 30-year-old in your third career change. So it helps to have a good team behind you. “Both these branches have really good guys working for them,” Scott says. “Everyone has pretty different personalities, but they’re all really respectful. I was really keen and motivated and so lucky that a lot of the blokes took me under their wing.”

Scott moved to Cobar in early 2019, but he’d previously spent some time working at the branch while doing his apprenticeship. “I’ve spent about nine months to a year working here – including a few Christmases,” Scott says. “I really wanted to come out to Cobar, so I had a chat with my boss about the opportunity to move. It’s good for me as the branch is so small I have the chance to do a bit of managing. I made it clear when I started that managing was what I wanted to do.”

It might seem a big leap to go from apprentice to manager, but Scott’s not your average apprentice. “I work on a two-weeks-on, one-week off roster, half the time on the tools, and half the time branch manager,” Scott adds.

It’s little surprise that with that work ethic, Scott’s boss back in Dubbo put him up for the Apprentice of the Year competition. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Scott says about the competition where he got to compete with other apprentices in a battle of wits and skills. He started with the NSW/ACT competition, before blitzing it and heading to the main competition in Melbourne: a five day event competing with an international field. “It was unreal,” Scott enthuses. “I loved it. You’re competing against guys from Canada and Alaska, and you learn that even though everyone’s global, because we’re all trained the same, we speak the same language.

On the first day of the competition Scott had to do a 20-minute presentation and used his knowledge of underground mines to speak about a business idea for battery-powered Cat Underground Loaders. Other days involved problem solving and skills testing and knowledge tests – and often it’s the first time apprentices are exposed to doing these things in a test environment.

One of the most memorable moments was when Scott walked into a room with an engine sitting in it. Now, this wasn’t just any engine, it was a Cat 3600 which is about seven to eight metres long, “you walk in and you’re like, ‘woah’.” Scott says. “The problem solving starts as soon as you walk into the room!”

This is the invaluable part of the competition. Where you’d be confronted with something you’ve never seen before, sometimes a massive issue (or a massive engine) and just have to solve it. “One of the main things I got out of this competition was the realisation that even if you’ve never seen something before, if you follow the training and procedures you’ve had, you should be able to do it. It’s given me the confidence of walking up to something that I’ve never seen and knowing that I should be able to work through it.”

Scott loved the whole experience “You get treated like a bit of a rock star down there,” he says.

It’s been a dizzying ride from his apprenticeship to his career with WesTrac. “Three years ago I didn’t have a job, but now I have a trade,” Scott says.

“The life you can have as a heavy duty diesel mechanic, well, anything is possible. If I could tell my 18-year-old self one thing it’s that you need to know that the world’s your oyster and there’s no limits to what you can achieve in this job. I honestly couldn’t speak any higher of an apprenticeship at WesTrac.”

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