Traineeships to steel sister city

MORE than two decades of work by Orange City Council to improve conditions for its Papua New Guinea sister city Mount Hagen is slowly deteriorating as the city struggles to maintain its infrastructure because of a shortage of skilled workers.

But Jeff Hort believes a scheme to bring PNG workers to Orange for three-month metal engineering traineeships could be the start of raising the skill level of the Mount Hagen community.

Mr Hort hopes to start the scheme with two Mount Hagen workers at his engineering business but first, with help from Orange City Council, has to get appropriate work visas finalised.

His business will pay the workers’ wages, arrange rental accommodation and pastoral care for the workers during their stay in Orange and the council will commit up to $26,000 in funds allocated from AusAID to pay for airfares for the workers - estimated at $2000 return for each trainee.

“The whole idea is to help the sister city program so things don’t get done [in Mount Hagen] and then fall apart,” Mr Hort said.

“It’s good for Jeff Hort Engineering as well, as a bonus some of our guys could go to PNG for a few months.”

Mr Hort said he had been working with a Mount Hagen metal fabrication company to potentially take on some of the firm’s experienced, but untrained, workers and give them formal welding certificates in Australia as part of the scheme.

If the two-trainee trial is successful he hopes to bring new workers to Orange each quarter and eventually build skills of up to 16 Mount Hagen residents and encourage other Orange industries and businesses to also be involved.

Mr Hort said his experience of living in Bougainville, about 1400 kilometres from Mount Hagen, for seven years made him feel Australia owed PNG something.

“If Australians don’t do enough other countries will, particularly China,” he said.

“We do need to do things that are practical... you don’t need people standing around in an office in collars and ties, you need people on the ground doing the work.”

At Tuesday’s council meeting Cr Reg Kidd supported the trial scheme, but was concerned the trainees could struggle to get a job when they return to PNG.

But Mr Hort said he was confident the workers would be employed upon their return, whether it be for a fabrication firm, mining company or on the gas or oil fields.

“They might have to move away from home, which is sad, but the Porgera [gold] mine is just a drive from Mount Hagen,” he said.

clare.colley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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