At just 22 years old, vehicle refinishing apprentice Bella Turrise is excelling in her apprenticeship at TAFE NSW Campbelltown. She won gold in the 2019 regional WorldSkills competition and is working for one of the state’s largest vehicle panel repair and paint companies in the $7 billion national industry.
According to Mark McLean, Bella’s manager at KSR Auto Body, “every day she displays why she was deserving of her gold medal. She is exceptional at what she does with an excellent eye for detail, and she takes real pride in her work,” Mr McLean said.
Bella, who is currently a fourth-year apprentice, remembers seeing the tradesmen working on a car when she first started and thinking “I want to be doing that."
"Then, when you start learning about it at TAFE NSW, you realise those tradesmen were making it look easy,” she said.
“Our practical learning at TAFE helps a lot because we often work on techniques which we don’t have time to experiment with at work like stretching a clear coat or the different techniques for marking up a bumper.”
As part of her WorldSkills challenge Bella was tested on colour matching. “We had to mix a paint colour to match the existing colour of a car. I enjoy that kind of work. I also enjoy the work it takes to get the panels as perfect as we can. It’s satisfying to have a job where you get to see an impressive, finished product.”
She said she would recommend the trade to women, particularly if they had an interest in cars. “I’d say go for it, it’s nice to be working with a team of guys who respect your skills. I’m not treated differently, I’m just one of the team.”
McLean also encouraged women to consider a career in an industry with a strong future and plenty of variety. “For those who focus and complete their apprenticeship it’s an excellent job, offering good money.
“It’s a skill you can take with you anywhere around the world. As for demand, as long there are vehicle collisions there will be a need for people with these skills, so I think it’s safe to call it a long-term career.
"The industry is also experiencing strong demand for skilled workers as older spray painters retire. It’s good to see TAFE NSW delivering a pipeline of workers to help meet that growing demand,” he said.
TAFE NSW Teacher Carl Tinsley explained advancements in technology meant the spray painting and refinishing had come a long way from a time when it was viewed as a “dirty old industry where you’re stuck down the back working in a cloud of overspray. That’s definitely not the case,” Mr Tinsley said.
“It’s a very technology-heavy industry now. We have ultraviolet primers and use gas-fired infrared which can dry a car’s paint in under 10 minutes. Also, modern cars use advanced materials so it’s an exciting and high-tech industry to be in.
“For example, modern cars have loads of sensors for safety and parking. There’s a lot of skill required to be able to paint over them without interfering with their operation. These are the types of skills we teach our apprentices at TAFE NSW, it’s leading-edge stuff and it continues to evolve.”