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Trainee saw doctors at AKD

63-year-old saw technician trainee Craig Schweikert was part of a group of TAFE NSW Tumut students to tour AKD in Tumut recently.

A group of TAFE NSW Tumut saw technician apprentices – including a 63-year-old trainee – have had a firsthand glimpse of one of the region’s powerhouse sawmills in action as part of a special visit last month. Source: Timberbiz

The group of Certificate III in Saw Technology students, from sawmills across Australia, were recently given a guided tour of the nation’s largest soft wood sawmilling business, Tumut’s AKD.

TAFE NSW Tumut students on a tour of AKD.

Part of an annual study tour using industry connections from the teachers at TAFE NSW Tumut’s Forestry Industries Centre, the visit enabled apprentices to see how a high-volume state-of-the-art softwood mill operated and gave AKD an opportunity to identify future talent.

Saw technicians, also known as saw doctors, are an irreplaceable part of the timber industry, repairing, setting and sharpening saw blades for timber production, often working within fractions of millimetres.

“This is the hub of the softwood industry in NSW and many of these apprentices haven’t seen anything like this before; it was a real eye-opener,” AKD saw shop supervisor Bill Stuckey said.

“They got a real insight into how automation allows a log to be segregated, separated and broken down as sawn timber without a hand touching it.

“There’s so much demand for saw technicians right now and for a young person that likes detail and working within tight tolerances, it’s a great career to get into.”

Mr Stuckey said the local timber industry was still recovering from the disastrous 2019-2020 bushfires, which devastated more than a third of the region’s commercial forestry plantation area.

TAFE NSW Tumut is one of only two forestry training providers in Australia, giving apprentice saw doctors from across the nation the skills and experience to forge long careers in the industry.

Tumut and Tumbarumba are home to a global forestry industry, with nearly 18% of the region’s workforce employed in the industry.

One of the saw technicians who attended the visit was ex-builder Craig Schweikert, a 63-year-old from South West Rocks who is launching a new career when many are considering retirement.

Mr Schweikert’s partner recently became a partner at Macleay River Hardwood, and he turned to TAFE NSW Tumut to give him the hands-on skills, knowledge and experience to work as a saw technician.

“Retiring wasn’t an option for me and I’m still physically fit, so I decided to become a trainee at 63,” he said.

“It was mind-blowing to visit AKD as I’d never had any exposure to softwoods before.”