For the past 146 years the Waverley Woollen Mill has produced quality products and employed hundreds of Tasmanians.
It has survived two world wars, the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis. The mill site was one of the first to be approved for hydro power and could still transition the plant back into operation.
Twenty-one Tasmanians are still employed to process about 360 tonne of wool every year, with a further eight people employed in the e-commerce side of the business.
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For some employees like 23-year-old Jake Cuthbertson, working at the mill is somewhat of a family tradition. He never dreamt of following in his grandparents' footsteps, but an unforeseen crisis led him to the mill.
Cuthbertson was working for a landscaping and home maintenance company earlier this year when his boss suddenly decided to sell the business.
"[He] sold the business and took off to Queensland so that was the end of that," he said.
The decision left Cuthbertson looking for a job in the middle of a pandemic. He was one of many searching for employment at a time when there were not many jobs to go around.
Luckily he picked up some work at the mill helping to sort Italian yarn. The yarn had been rescued from landfill and was set to be used as part of the mill's recycling program.
Cuthbertson's temporary gig soon turned into full time employment as a machinery operator in the carting room.
He said the work environment and the machines were the highlights of the job.
"It's interesting watching the whole process from start to finish because I don't think many people get the chance to see it these days," Cuthbertson said.
Cuthbertson now takes pride in following in his familys' footsteps. He is one of few young faces that can be found among the mill's employees.
"Our biggest problem here is an ageing workforce with no young ones coming through," Andrew Monaghan said.
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Monaghan, who is the second in charge weaving manager, has been working at the mill for 27 years.
Although he is at the other end of his career, Monaghan's reasons for joining the mill are quite similar to Cuthbertson.
A carpenter by trade, Monaghan was working on government houses until work dried up in the early 1990s.
A housing crisis meant there was no more work for him in the carpentry field so he found a job at the mill.
Now 27 years later and he still hasn't left. "I met some good people and [it's] an interesting place to work," Monaghan said.
He said it was exciting to see his work come out as a physical product, particularly when it was something he designed.
Neither Monaghan or Cuthbertson have any formal qualifications to show for all their training at the mill.
The skills they have learnt were picked up on the job, but there was a system set up for them to gain certification.
Mill manager Julianne Springer said they were hoping to change that by partnering with education providers.
She said the hope was to attract more younger people to work at the mill by providing opportunities for training and apprenticeships.
"If TAFE wanted to take on training we could take up apprentices," Springer said.
Italian up-cycle program manager Penny Rundle, who gave Cuthbertson his start at the mill, said the aim was to set up a collaborative relationship with an institution like TasTAFE.
"We already have difficulty sourcing people who have some skills, so when we do get new employees, pretty much, they are trained on site," she said.
Mill management have a bold vision for the historic site which would see 18 new jobs created - five of which would be for apprentices, and the creation of a tourism venture at the mill.
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The tourism venture could include a restaurant and tours around the facilities many attractions.
Management's vision would also see a focus on sustainability with investments in renewable power and further investments in their recycling programs.
The recycling program at the mill sees every piece of waste wool collected and used to create new products.
It is also the program through which the mill purchased 70 tonne of Italian yarn which was headed for landfill.
That yarn will be used to keep the mill operational while an upgrade of the carting machine is being completed. The carting machine is how the mill turns wool into yarn.
Mill director Andrew Cuccurullo said the recycling program was a key part of why they need new staff.
"With what we want to do with the recycling program we want to employ new people and train them to come and work at the mill and be experts at the weaving and all the different parts of the manufacturing [process]," he said.
"The people there are real artisans, but that has come from decades of experience. To put formal training and certificates around it would be ideal so that they are recognised within the industry.
"The idea is to attract a new workforce. That also brings new ideas, talent, innovation and so forth to the process."
Partnering with TasTAFE would allow the mill to offer accredited training to new employees which would help attract more people.
Business consultant David Farley, who is working with the mill, said the business was trying to create a relationship with government at all levels to progress some of its plans.
He said they were tightly aligned with the renewed focus being put on Australian manufacturing and sustainability.
"We are aligned with the regional manufacturing push, we are aligned with job creation, we are aligned with the circular economy of recycling because that is our core competency now and, we are also aligned with clean energy," Mr Farley said.
As part of its expansion plans the mill could triple the number of people it employees, but Farley said that would still be significantly less than the number of people who used to work at the plant.
"We have the machinery capacity to do it, but it is a matter of getting the skills. We need to be able to train the people that operate all those machines," he said.
"We have got new jobs and we have a whole host of younger people in there [but] we need structured training around them so we can give them careers.
"Launceston used to be the textile capital of Australia - TAFE has a lot of textile equipment and has good classes there, but we could comfortably supply anywhere from six to 10 apprenticeships a year on all the different stages of manufacturing there."
TasTAFE chief executive officer Jenny Dodd said the organisation welcomed any discussions with potential industry partners.
"TasTAFE welcomes any discussion with industry around how we can assist with training. Where we have capability we are happy to engage with any employer," she said.
"If we can find some partnership opportunities for the future we would be pleased to work with Waverley Mills."
Securing accredited training is a key part of expansion plans at Waverley Mills, but so is increasing its exposure to government.
Farley said too often he would be having a conversation with a politician who doesn't know the mill exists.
"Just get to know us - we find ourselves quite isolated away from government," he said.
"We have been able to operate since 1874, we've been able to operate all through COVID, but it was really interesting when we started to try and get a relationship with government most people didn't know we were there.
"We read the headlines and we hear what people are saying - we're aligned with that but we have got to come and meet each other."
So, over the last few months they have been inviting politicians from across the spectrum to tour the facility.
So far Tasmanian Labor Bass MHA Jennifer Houston, Liberal Bass MHR Bridget Archer and independent Senator Jacqui Lambie have been shown around.
The publicity campaign seems to be working with all three politicians sharing their visits on social media.
"Regional manufacturing jobs like those at the Waverley Woollen Mills are not just a part of our past, they are our future," Ms Houston said in a post on November 7.
After her visit Senator Lambie said the mill was exactly the kind of business the government should be investing in.
"In a post-COVID world, we need to focus on becoming more self sufficient and supporting more manufacturing in Australia. More Australian manufacturing creates more Australian jobs - it just makes sense," she said.
"Waverley Wollen Mills is exactly the kind of Australian business that we should be investing in. David and his team at the Mill do a great job, and there is huge potential for the business."
Farley said they would welcome taking any other politicians through the site in the future.
"We've actually got engagement now with some of the bureaucrats inside government ... having those meetings with the politicians they have been able to open some doors for us to get there," he said.
"We've got a very proud group of operators, first of all they are capable people, they are skilled people and most of them are proud of being there.
"What we are keen to do is build on that."
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