27 November 2023

'Brewed to Succeed' pilot training program to raise the bar of Canberra's brewing industry

| Claire Fenwicke
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Chris Steel and Richard Watkins at BentSpoke Brewing in Braddon

Skills Minister Chris Steel (left) learning about the science behind beer from BentSpoke Brewing co-owner and head brewer Richard Watkins. Photo: Supplied.

When BentSpoke Brewing co-owner Richard Watkins entered the industry 27 years ago, he had no formal guidance about how to go about making a business out of brewing beer.

Now his business has joined with the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) and the ACT Government to create a pilot program to educate the next generation of brewers locally.

“Good beer might start with good ingredients, but it needs good brewers,” Mr Watkins said.

“I’m really keen to share my 27 years of experience with the next generation coming through … it will be great to see the next generation of brewers coming through and us being able to employ local people for local jobs.”

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The ‘Brewed to Succeed’ pilot program will be delivered by CIT in collaboration with local brewers after securing a successful grant of nearly $80,000 through the Skilled to Succeed Innovation Grants Program.

It will be split between delivery at CIT and local breweries where a local brewer is currently being trained to be an educator. They’ll then deliver the classroom elements of the program to 12 students who are employed across Canberra’s six breweries.

CIT interim CEO Christine Robinson explained a similar model had been used in the health space for many years to enable students to learn on the job as they qualify.

“We’re enormously excited [to develop this program]. We love a challenge and our staff particularly love the opportunity to grow, to innovate and to work with people like Richard and his team who are also innovators in the work that they do,” she said.

Christine Robinson, Chris Steel and Richard Watkins

BentSpoke Brewing head brewer Richard Watkins (right) giving CIT interim CEO Christine Robinson and Skills Minister Chris Steel the lowdown of what makes a good beer. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Mr Watkins said the value of the program to brewers didn’t just come from learning about and applying the science of brewing, but also from equipping students with the skills to start their own businesses.

“The associated learnings that come with that, the business skills, learning about hospitality, tourism [are really important],” he said.

“With brewing, 3.8 jobs are created for every brewing job in an associated industry, so the brewer who’s training in a brewery will learn about a lot of those as well.

“The new brewing course at CIT will empower newcomers to enter the beer industry with the necessary knowledge to hit the ground running while simultaneously enhancing the skills of employed brewers, thereby strengthening and supporting the local brewing industry.”

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The ACT’s breweries make up 0.7 per cent of the Territory’s workforce, more than double the 0.3 per cent proportion in Victoria and Western Australia.

The industry is also experiencing a skills shortage, with the success of this local program hopefully leading to a Certificate IV qualification in artisan fermented products in the future.

Skills Minister Chris Steel said this could open the qualification to people beyond the ACT.

“It can then attract people [to Canberra] who want to undertake that training, not just the brewing industry, but from the wine-making industry in our region and the distillery industry. That includes breweries as far away as down the South Coast,” he said.

“We know our local brewers here in the ACT have been incredibly successful nationally, and this investment will make sure we don’t lose the edge that’s made Canberra a household name in the independent brewing industry.”

It could also serve as a blueprint for other small or emerging industries in the Territory.

“This unique training model could serve as a basis for future programs in other emerging industries facing skills shortages where accredited training isn’t currently available,” Mr Steel said.

The first students are expected to begin the program in April 2024.

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