Ten years ago Paul Timu was working in construction when the industry hit a flat spot. He knew he needed to make a career change and, after speaking with a family member who worked at Volgren, he managed to get a job at the company’s Eagle Farm facility.
“I was helping out in the chassis area building the roofs. I was casual for two and a half years and expressed my interest in an opportunity to become an apprentice,” Paul remembers.
Volgren was offering four-year apprenticeships in truck, trailer and bus manufacturing and Paul says he “took that opportunity with two hands and ran with it”.
It was then, in 2013, that Paul met Nelson Rowlingson, a fellow adult-apprentice with a similar background: Nelson had practical skills but no trade, and he found that this limited the types of work he could seek.
“I was a second-class welder [and] Volgren were willing to give me a start. I started on production, fitting gas tanks to MAN buses.
“When the apprenticeship came up, I put my name down and was lucky enough to start in 2009,” Nelson says.
Paul was 23 when he started the apprenticeship and Nelson was 34. They were in the same class at TAFE and quickly became friends.
“It was really great to do the apprenticeship with Nelson. We were just bouncing off each other. Anything that I didn’t know I would ask him and vice-versa. It worked really well and from early on we had each other’s back,” Paul says.
Nelson says he also enjoyed learning alongside a fellow Volgren apprentice and says he was motivated by what felt like a rare opportunity.
“Going through the apprenticeship, it honestly felt like a career lifeline to get a trade and it gave me a lot of purpose,” he says.
There was a lot of hard work involved, but both men say the labour was worth it. Volgren unapologetically dropped apprentices in the deep end, asking them to learn by doing, often under demanding circumstances.
Paul and Nelson both remember being deeply involved in manufacturing buses for Brisbane City Council.
“It was hectic. Sometimes we would push out a bus a day for Brisbane City Council in 2012,” Nelson says.
Paul had a similar experience, at the same time exacting and rewarding.
“After the apprenticeship I was promoted to team leader [for the Brisbane City Council construction line] and worked on Volgren’s first ever artic to be built on a flow line.
“It was big step up, but we got there and the next artic took a lot less time to build. We set a precedent for future builds – the systems here are awesome – and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.”
The broad experience both men gained from the apprenticeship – Nelson, for example, worked in paint, fitout, assembly and acceptance – gave them great professional versatility. That, in turn, made them ideal candidates to become mobile technicians, whose job it is the help keep buses on the road.
Nelson became part of that team in 2017 and Paul joined him in early 2019.
“Our biggest focus is if customers have any VOR [vehicle off road]. That’s our highest priority – to get those vehicles back on the road ASAP. We tend to drop everything for those situations and try and solve the situation by any means possible,” explains Paul.
Brisbane City Council operate seven depots across the city; Nelson and Paul have worked at all of them, and several other depots for different operators throughout Queensland and Northern New South Wales. When they can’t diagnose or fix a problem on site, they bring the bus back to Volgren’s workshop.
“We’re the face of Volgren whenever we go to a depot and we take that responsibility seriously,” Paul says.
Their experience, expertise and professionalism stand them both in good stead. But Paul says in many ways it’s the buses themselves that promote the Volgren name most effectively.
“All the mechanics, body builders, auto electricians always say that our buses are the best to work on,” Paul says.
“I’m not being too confident when I say that Volgren has the best vehicles in Australia – they would stack up to any bus built globally. I’ve worked on a number of different vehicles and the difference in quality is stark.”