Skip to main content

Urgent call for steel detailer trainees

Urgent call for steel detailer trainees

Kate Southam, Editor

As job security goes, it’s hard to imagine anything more promising than becoming a structural steel detailer.

According to John Leworthy of the Australian Institute of Steel Detailers, there is not only a world wide shortage of detailers; they are also an endangered species.

The problem, explains Mr Leworthy is the “in house” apprenticeships started after World War II and abandoned in the 1970s have never been replaced.

Part of the reason the traineeships died out was due to the popularity of concrete over steel as a building product.

“Throughout the nineties, steel started coming back with a vengeance as not only a construction medium but also very largely in mining,” says Leworthy. “Those steel detailers still left found themselves unable to keep up with the demand.”

If a traineeship is not introduced soon, he warns, a valuable skill set will simply disappear.

Mr Leworthy knew the trade was in trouble when he attended the inaugural meeting of the Victorian Institute of Steel Detailers in 2000. (The Australian Institute of Steel Detailers was formed in 2007).

“I looked around the room and realised there wasn’t a person there under the age of 55,” he said.

“There are only about 80 detailers left in Victoria and about 80 per cent of those are aged 60,” said Leworthy who works from his Melbourne home.

Now after nine years of lobbying and with the support of Manufacturing Skills Australia, the institute has developed the course work for a traineeship program using Federal Government funding.

The 12-month Certificate III in Manufacturing Technology-Structural Steel Detailing and the two-year Diploma has also been added to the National Training Information Service register. Leworthy says all training courses would be funded by state governments.

The next step is to find a course provider and the AISD believe TAFE is the natural choice.

“The major hurdle with this stems from the frustration created by the good old catch 22. TAFE will not seek state government funds to run the courses without potential numbers of students to meet their minimum criteria.

“How can we know that when no one knows what steel detailing is?” says Mr Leworthy.

“Until the delivery exists, there is no promotion from within TAFE to attract students so what we need now is publicity,” he said.

If the Australian course is realised it will be one of the few in the world. At this point in time, a course exists on the West Coast of the US and a new training program was introduced for the first time in South Africa only last year. There are no courses available in Europe or the UK.

The global shortage of detailers has seen Australians work for clients in China, up and down the Eastern seaboard of the US and across Asia.

Mr Leworthy describes steel detailers as the draftsman behind “anything with a steel structure to it”.

“For example, in construction, the architect designs the skin of the building, the engineer then designs the means of supporting that skin and the roof and the steel detailer then takes the engineer’s information and creates detailed drawings to enable fabricators/manufacturers to make the steel product.”

Using computer programs such as AutoCAD detailers also produce the drawings used for the production of an array of steel products from water tanks, building materials and bridges to mining equipment.

Those suited to steel detailing include “people with an enormous sense of humour as no engineer churns out a drawing that you can work from without picking up a phone.”

“Also, it requires clear thinking and a good, basic grounding in maths particularly geometry and trigonometry at about Year 9 to Year 10 level.

“It could also suit a boiler maker who is in their 40s and starting to experience some issues with the physical nature of their job. They would be ideal because they already work with steel.

For more information on a career as a steel detailer go to, look down the left hand navigation column and click on “Careers”. To read what is involved in the courses go back to the home page and click on “Education”.

Anyone interested in becoming a steel detailer is asked to contact the AISD member in their state using the Contact Us section.

The AISD are hoping courses can start next year.