New buzz in the saw shop

Our people > 31st October, 2022

31 October 2022

Traditional trade being revived at steelworks

The Liberty Primary Steel Whyalla steelworks is leading the charge to protect and maintain a time-honoured industry trade.

Whyalla is the only steelworks in Australia that still utilises the trade of saw doctor and it looks to have a bright future with the recent employment of two apprentices this year while another two will be sought for next January.

The indenturing of four new saw doctor apprentices at the GFG Alliance operation is a significant milestone for the trade after a recruitment hiatus of 20 years in Whyalla. Circumstances, including lack of training opportunities, had seen the saw shop maintained with a core staff of just two saw doctors at times.

A retirement and departure from the saw shop prompted the latest replenishment of staff in this vital and unique area of the steelworks. This included another two mature-aged workers being trained as operators.

PRECISION WORK: Saw Doctor Paul Action hammering a saw blade at the Whyalla Steelworks.

Paul Acton is considered “The Don” of the saw doctors having done his apprenticeship at the Whyalla site in 1971 and going on to run the saw shop for many years.

Paul left to work in Newcastle in 2000, came back to work in safety at the steelworks and then moved on to mining before retiring for three years. Coming out of retirement to take a role in work force development, it has seen him return to the saw shop for training and development

“The new apprentices and trained operators are a fantastic result and great to see that our legacy will continue,” Paul said.

“No one else in Australia does this sort of work to the point we have to get training from the wood industry in New South Wales for the TAFE component while most of the training is still conducted in the saw shop.

“Having saw doctors in the business is not only great for the trade, it saves the company time and money.”

When Paul returned he was initially required to go back on the tools as the numbers dropped in Whyalla due to sickness and leave. He was back hammering tension blades on the 180cm tall and 250kg saws before the process of recruitment and training was able to start.

“It is definitely a challenge but enjoyable … when you get that blade tuned it is a definitely a bit of rush and real sense of achievement.”

These monster saws can cut steel at 26,000 feet per minute and are used on everything from railway track to structural angles with hot and cold steel products.

Mature-aged apprentices John Attwood and Matthew Knowles have joined Paul, Andrew Hill, Kerrin Hunter and trained operators Vincent Alboino and Nicholas Hurle.

CAREER MOVE: Saw Doctor apprentice Matthew Knowles

For Matthew, the chance to learn a trade was a real attraction after 15 years in the mining industry and his last few years driving a truck. A born and bred Whyalla local with a young family, Matthew admitted he didn’t know much about the saw doctor trade when he first applied but he was now loving the challenge in his first few months of training.

“I had been looking to settle into a trade and saw this apprenticeship come up,” Matthew said.

“To be honest it is hard to describe what the job involves until you see it firsthand.

“It is definitely a challenge but enjoyable … when you get that blade tuned it is a definitely a bit of rush and real sense of achievement.”

For Matthew it is also a chance to live and work in his own community and have more time with his family. He has previously lived in Adelaide and worked FIFO before returning to his home town.

“It’s definitely more engaging than driving and truck and it’s good to get up and about doing something on your feet,” Matthew said.

“Plus, it is a great environment in the saw shop. We are a real crew, not just people you work with … we are mates and help each other out.”

This is music to Paul’s ears as he witnesses this new era of the saw shop with an injection of new faces and enthusiasm.

“This revival of the saw shop is fantastic and it now has a bright future … we always come back to the saws and we are going to need them for a long time,” Paul said.

“It’s great to see the saw shop back to good staff numbers with a great buzz about the place.”

The Whyalla Steelworks has many more exciting opportunities like this. Check out the jobs on offer at our careers page

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