Kangan skills taught to the world
7 September 2010
It took a total of two bus trips, three plane flights, and 48 hours for Kangan Institute trainer Alan Hopkins to first arrive at a mine site in Laos to teach the Certificate III in Carpentry to locals.
It was a journey he would get quite accustomed to, spending around 30 days each year from 2007 to 2010 teaching his trade as part of a training deal brokered between RMIT, Kangan Institute, an international mining company, and the Laos government.
As well as carpentry, other apprenticeship trade areas were selected as being most practical in relation to infrastructure needs of the mine site. These included automotive, electrical, fabrication, instrumentation, mechanical and refrigeration.
While Alan clearly found his experience very rewarding, it wasn't without its heady challenges.
"On my first visit I was introduced to six Lao men aged between 20 and 31 who'd been selected for carpentry apprenticeship training," he says, "None of them could understand English, and all had very little knowledge of the outside world, which made training very difficult to deliver.
"Helped by a translator, who I would end up working with for all four years, we modified and simplified Australian training packages," Alan says, "This not only made it easier for the translator, but it also helped the students understand some of the more difficult aspects of the training."
Mine sites are renowned for their tough hours. The Laos mine site operates 24-hours a day, with each day split into two 12-hour shifts workers are expected to work 12-hours on and-12-hours off.
Alan's usual training day started at 6am through until 6pm, with his "working week" lasting 30 days straight. The exception to this was in 2007, where he completed 42 days, made up of two separate stints of 21 consecutive days.
"There are no weekends at a mine site!" Alan says, with a smile.
Alan's personal teaching contract in Laos has recently wrapped up, with the terrific result of all his Lao students set to receive their Trade Certificates in 2011, having successfully completed all competencies.
The one downside is that the mine site's new owners, a Chinese company who took over in late 2009, will be organising their own training when the original apprenticeship training contract completes. This unfortunately won't include RMIT or Kangan Institute.
If Alan's disappointed about this news however, he doesn't let anything on.
"It's just been an amazing experience," Alan says, "Though I'm hoping for an invitation to return to the mine site later in 2011 - just to shake the hands of each of my students when they graduate in November."
This photo was taken in the carpentry workshop on site at the mine site in Laos.