One year on from her 2020 win as regional North Queensland’s Small Employer of the Year, the National Careers Institute interviewed VET Alumni Sharine Milne to get to know her and her amazing journey a little better.
So how did hospitality worker and single mum Sharine Milne become to be known as motorcycle mechanic ‘Spanner’?
Well, Sharine didn’t set out to become a mechanic.
“I was working long and busy hospitality hours when one day my five-year-old daughter says to me, ‘Mummy, I don’t see you anymore!’”
It was this innocent statement from her little one that led Spanner to embark on her journey. That day, she handed in her resignation and walked into TAFE to pursue a career in an unexpected field, sparked by an interest in the words ‘Motorcycle Mechanic’.
Sharine completed pre-vocational training and an Apprenticeship in Motorcycle Mechanical Technology before going on to complete a Diploma of Management. She began training at RHD Classic Supplies and Services in Townsville QLD and it was here, after about five years, that she came to be known as Spanner.
“My former boss’s daughter used to call me ‘spanner girl’ because I always had a spanner in my back pocket. That’s the name you’ll now see written on my business card!”
She now owns the very business where she first trained and has been running the successful and well-regarded business for nearly a decade.
In that time, she’s put 42 students through pre-vocational work experience courses. As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman herself, Spanner has a particular interest in using her position and expertise to provide training to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
In fact, she encourages young women and kids from all backgrounds to consider VET.
“It doesn’t matter what your background or experience is, just try your hardest,” Spanner said.
“If you’ve got passion, show them. If you’ve got drive, be the drive. Becoming an apprentice can be extremely rewarding and is the first step towards a new future.”
In 2012 Spanner was awarded Queensland Trainee of the Year and was a finalist for the Australian Training Awards. In 2020, Spanner’s business, RHD Classic Supplies and Services, won the North Queensland regional Training Award for Small Employer of the Year.
Spanner continues to excel in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry. She admits that in the early days of her career, she needed to develop a thick skin and maintain a resilient attitude. Spanner credits these attributes to her years worked in the hospitality field, where she developed a range of transferrable skills that have contributed to her success.
During her pre-vocational course in 2003, she found her own work placement. It was here she was laughed out of five car shops before she finally found a mechanic willing to take her on.
“It can be a tough industry for women to break into,” she admits. “But by taking a VET pathway, you’re taking that first step towards bigger things and I take my hat off to you.”
Dedication and passion see Spanner arriving early at work every day and sometimes she doesn’t leave until midnight. It is this determination for, and love of, her business and industry that results in the next generation of mechanics being nurtured by influential people like Spanner.
“I hit the ground running every day,” she says. “I’m everything: the training officer, the business owner, the accounts manager, the purchase ordering manager, the head mechanic. I’m also studying for my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment – and somehow I find time for that in my day!”
Spanner has two employees, Duffy – known affectionately as the ‘spare parts guy’ – and Tyrel who is Spanner’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprentice.
“When Tyrel and I work together, I explain things as I go. We’re hands on and we get to experience it all. The dirt, the scuffed knuckle, the broken nail. Kids don’t get that at uni.”
To add further to her list of accolades and accomplishments, much of Spanner’s work also involves helping people with a disability.
One recent job was for an above-knee amputee client, who had a dream to race again after 8 years living with his disability.
To achieve this, Spanner and her team rebuilt his bike to enable him to safely race again, with many of the controls moving to his upper body and a new custom feature for stopping.
Spanner got a message a week later from the client saying, “this is absolutely awesome”.
“That’s my reward, right there” she says.