By Tania Phillips
Stanthorpe’s Kent Saddlery are taking an old industry and making it relevant to the 21st century – and winning awards in the process.
The well-known business have taken out the Small Business award at the prestigious Queensland Training Awards State Finals announced late last week.
The Saddlery, established in 1988, had already won the South West Regional Awards and will now go on to represent Queensland in the National Awards announced from Melbourne in late November.
For the owners and staff, the award is recognition for their dedication to reviving the art of leather-working and allowing the industry to flourish again through the use of age-old techniques combined with cutting-edge technology including laser printers – which have become an important part of their arsenal.
Production manager Josh Furness said the award comes at a time when the business is receiving more visitors than ever thanks to Stanthorpe’s current tourism boom and looking to employ another young apprentice.
“It’s nice to get that recognition,” Furness said.
“I guess for us it’s about validating our industry and gives us some kudos to grow. To be able to stake a claim on manufacturing and our industry. It was appearing to die and we feel like this has gone a long way to reviving it.
“We are advertising for another apprentice – we approved two apprentices in the past 12 months on top of what we already had.”
This will take the number of apprentices to nine. He said the reason they had so many apprentices was because they have been putting the older staff through apprenticeships – something they couldn’t do until the courses had been reintroduced and ratified.
“We have put on two school leaver apprentices this year and now we are looking for another for the workshop and one for the retail arm of the business,” Furness said.
The Saddlery had worked with several training organisations for seven years to ensure that there were apprenticeship courses available for the leather-working industry.
“One of the things we did when we first started looking at it was trying to work with the Saddlers and Harness Makers Association, they virtually threw their hands in the air and said they didn’t want to be involved so we went on our own,” he said.
“We came out the other side with this qualification again.”
In a time when people are looking for things that last, the saddlery is leading the way in their industry and training a new generation to continue to the tradition.
“That what we do – we make stuff to last and we back that – we don’t just use that as a slogan, we back it up,” he said.
“We have had a lot of support from the local community as well as tourists – we have had a lot of tourists through the shop in the past couple of months and that’s made a big difference to our turn-over.”
A hundred years ago becoming a leatherworker would have been a normal trade – indeed the first employees at Holden had been saddlemakers. However he said while it might be unusual now, the industry was moving forward and looking towards a bright future. Furness said as well as now working with the latest laser printers, the company also has a metal fabrication arm developng now.
Now in its 59th year, the Queensland Training Awards recognize individuals and organisations striving and achieving success, best practice and innovation in vocational education and training.
With 14 categories, the awards aim to showcase all that is great about VET in Queensland with categories for apprentices, trainees, vocational students, teachers and trainers as well as training providers and employers.