The HVIA National Apprentice Challenge, held at the Brisbane Truck Show, showcased the nation’s top young truck talent with record crowds across two days of non-stop action! Cobey Bartels reports
Record crowds of school children flooded the South Bank Piazza across the first two days of the 2023 Brisbane Truck Show to watch the nation’s top tradies-to-be duke it out at the HVIA National Apprentice Challenge.
The National Apprentice Challenge has been a crowd favourite for decades, but this year’s challenge brought a new format aimed at offering maximum entertainment with a renewed push to entice fresh talent to the transport industry.
Just shy of 2,000 high school students from 50 schools attended, experiencing the all-out action first hand, as well as getting an in-depth look at where a career in road transport can take them with on-stage interviews, talks and advice from across the industry.
Competitors went head-to-head across six 45-minute timed heats, with a pressure-cooker 60-minute final where the top-three teams faced the ultimate test – made even more daunting by large crowds and video crews.
Teams were awarded one point for each fault repaired, but time penalties for sloppy workmanship were handed out – adding to the pressure!
The new fast-paced format brought 12 of Australia’s top apprentices together, nominated by leading technical colleges around the country, to put their skills to the ultimate tool test across two days.
It was evident during day one that this was a rare showcase of the industry’s top young talent, as the teams of two competed across four intense heats, blowing judges away with their technical ability.
“It was great to see the best of the best from each state compete, and every year I’m blown away by the level of skill these contestants bring – it gets better every single time!” NTI National Development and Technical Manager, Paul Burke, says.
A show of hands after each heat, when school children were asked whether they are now considering a career in road transport, saw a sea of eager future apprentices confirm the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.
“I hope it opened the students’ eyes as to how bright their future can be in this industry, because they had exposure to a lot of people from the industry,” Burke adds.
“Supporting apprentices is important and as an integral player we want to see the volume of young people entering the industry increase.”
The competition was made possible by official sponsor, Penske Australia, which supplied three of its brand-new Western Star 47X trucks – worked on for the very first time in front of the live audience.
Western Star also happens to be celebrating its 40th anniversary in Australia, no small feat for a truck manufacturer, commemorating the achievement with the next-generation X-Series that will take the iconic brand into the future.
“It was pretty special seeing the new trucks here at the Apprentice Challenge, on the same day the order books opened,” Penske Australia National Service Manager, Shaun Bell, says.
“Being a new truck, no-one competing had any experience with it but we made sure everyone got the best technical advice from our team.
“From the perspective of the apprentices though, they all commented on how good it looked and how good the systems were … some even mentioned the space when working on the engine.”
After five fierce heats of competition, with neck-and-neck performances from each of the six teams, one particular team edged ahead after completing the entire fault board in the pre-final heat on Friday morning.
Team One, made up of Brayden Conaghan from Penske Australia and Lachlan Tate from Brown and Hurley, went onto the final where they again completed all nine faults on the board and, for the first time in National Apprentice Challenge history, the pair even solved the ‘bonus point’ mystery fault.
The Brisbane-based team took the win with a perfect score, blowing judges away with 15 minutes remaining on the countdown clock, in a dominant performance that showcased the immense talent coming up through the ranks.
“I’m pretty proud of us and how well we worked together, because there were time-consuming faults but a lot of our strengths helped us in that final,” Penske Australia apprentice, Brayden Conaghan, says.
“We caught up after the first day of heats and decided we needed a plan – we needed to play to our strengths and look at how we could approach the challenge. It clearly worked.”
Penske technical staff were visibly impressed by the winning team’s communication, sense of calm and technical knowledge, after they completed a “very challenging” array of faults.
“We were hoping to keep them going and didn’t expect to see every fault finished, but they really surprised us. We didn’t think anyone would finish the finals fault board!” Bell says.
“That mystery fault was tricky … they did really well.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the winners, though, who experienced their fair share of challenges and setbacks across the competition – with one particular issue on day one requiring on-the-spot problem solving.
“We had a dodgy multimeter, which was frustrating but it happens. It took us a little while to figure that out – everything was just reading ‘open loop’,” Brown and Hurley apprentice, Lachlan Tate, says.
After what many are calling the best team performance in National Apprentice Challenge history, the two young guns were awarded an incredible Wurth prize pack and all-expenses paid trip to the Gold Coast 500 courtesy of NTI. Of course, they’ll also have bragging rights around the workshop for some time!
Second place on the National Apprentice Challenge podium went to Kyle Guy and Ryan Robinson, both from Followmont Transport, with cheers from their work crew that could be heard well beyond the South Bank Piazza.
“The Followmont team are stoked and I’m feeling pretty proud myself,” Followmont apprentice, Ryan Robinson, said after receiving his trophy.
A close third place went to Nathan Kaker from Penske Australia and Caleb Todd from Cummins South Pacific, both with smiles from ear to ear as the crowd roared in support.
“It’s always good when you have your home-grown people in the finals, because our guys had no real exposure to these new trucks – but we know we have the talent to work on them when they hit the streets!” Bell says.
“The caliber of apprentices selected was so high and there are really no losers because the opportunities now are endless for them.”
The three top teams were awarded trophies on-stage by Penske Australia General Manager of On Highway Product Craig Lee, HVIA Chief Executive Todd Hacking, and Drake Trailers owner John Drake, eternalising their National Apprentice Challenge success.
National Apprentice Challenge manager and ex-director of the HVIA, Chris Musch, was blown away by the teamwork and performance under pressure from the entire field of competitors.
“The challengers were really good, especially the way they gelled with their communication and teamwork. Most had never met, which makes it even more impressive!” he says.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, though, because to get to this level and compete in the challenge…they’ve all done extremely well.”
Musch points out that the new format brought more action than ever, and he thanks the Penske technical team for their top-tier support throughout the challenge.
“I thought the new format worked extremely well and this is the first year where we’ve had the three trucks,” he says.
“Penske were unbelievable with all of their support. They went above and beyond to supply two experienced service managers per truck, and to give us X-Series trucks was just incredible.”
The 2023 National Apprentice Challenge was the biggest and best yet, testament to the incredible apprentices that competed and the world-class sponsors: Penske, NTI and Wurth.
We can’t wait to do it again in 2025, at the Brisbane Truck Show!
Team 1: Lachlan Tate – Brown & Hurley; and Brayden Conaghan – Penske Australia
Team 2: Ben Seyffer – Nowra Truck & Tractor Repairs; and Sara Attard – Transport for NSW
Team 3: Paris Maw – CMV Truck & Bus; and Jackson Marriot – Peninsula Diesel Repairs
Team 4: Nathan Kaker – Penske Australia; and Caleb Todd – Cummins South Pacific
Team 5: Kyle Guy – Followmont Transport; and Ryan Robinson – Followmont Transport
Team 6: Blade Elzer – Major Motors Isuzu; and Jacob Zurzolo – MTAWA