Sometimes the path to a trades career isn’t a straight line. After trying his hand at automotive, switching to welding and spending months looking for work in Taranaki, Junior Mehau is now powering through an engineering apprenticeship thanks to his ambition, work ethic, and drawing on his networks in the trades.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you meet apprentice Junior Mehau is his ambition, reckons Marty Mitchell from Fairbrother Industries.

“Junior’s what you’d call a go-getter. He wants to be thought of as the number-one guy,” says Marty, who is the production manager and Junior’s boss.

“He sees what everyone else is doing and tries to do that little bit better – he’s quite competitive like that. And of course, when you’ve got a guy like that, no-one wants to be left behind, so he tends to motivate the whole team.”

Straight away, Junior made it clear he was looking to move up in his career, says Marty.

“The first time I met him he came up and said, ‘Hi, I’m Junior, what do I need to do to become the foreman here?’

“I said, ‘Well, it’s really simple. First you’ve got to finish your apprenticeship, and second you’ve got to be the guy everyone wants on the team.’ And he’s been responsive to that – he’s pretty sharp.”

Changing lanes

But the road to an apprenticeship has involved a few detours for Junior. In fact, the first trade that grabbed his interest wasn’t engineering, it was his hobby – automotive.

“I like cars and I’m good with my hands,” says Junior. “I thought it would be a move in the right direction.”

He spent a few years tuning up his automotive skills, and with his dad being from Manihiki in the Cook Islands and his mum from Suva in Fiji, he qualified for an MPTT scholarship.

But with a taste of what life on the job would be like, Junior decided he wanted to keep his work with cars as a relaxing hobby, not his livelihood.

“I realised if I want to do stuff to my own cars, then I don’t really want to be doing that as a job.”

Marty says experiences like Junior’s aren’t wasted, since they all help develop the skills needed to build a career in the trades.

“Other mechanical style trades, such as automotive, are all about a logical approach to maintenance that’s very similar to engineering. Plus any trades training you do has key literacy and numeracy parts to it, which reinforces the basic building blocks that everyone needs to have.

“The process also forces you to take a disciplined approach to what you’re doing, and young people often need that. So by doing other trades and having other experiences, it all works towards Junior being better at what he does.

“All those skills are building blocks towards a bigger whole. Any time you can fill in some of those blocks outside of your immediate situation, it’s immensely beneficial.”

Joining forces

The 26-year-old later studied welding, and after enjoying the work and gaining some on-the-job experience, Junior discovered he wanted to focus his efforts on the engineering trade.

Although his focus changed as he progressed through the trades, MPTT was there to offer support and practical help throughout. Even when Junior left Auckland, having lined up a potential engineering job in Taranaki, MPTT project manager Kirk Sargent connected him with Taranaki Futures – an organisation that offers similar services to MPTT.

Staying in touch with MPTT
MPTT Auckland Project Manager Kirk Sargent called into see Junior and Scarlet as part of his visit to New Plymouth to meet with Taranaki Futures

When the opportunity in Taranaki didn’t pan out as expected, Junior eventually returned to Auckland.

“I was wanting to go into the gas and oil industry. I was sort of promised a job from an engineering company but when I got there, they said the work was dropping off so they couldn’t take me on.”

With Junior back in Auckland, MPTT connected him with Iani Nemani at industry training organisation Competenz – one of MPTT’s partners. With help from Iani, Junior eventually found an engineering job making farm equipment for Fairbrother Industries in Auckland.

“I still do a lot of welding, because I build the bases for our machines,” says Junior. “I also like that I get to do new stuff and learn new things on the job.”

He’s now two years into an apprenticeship that covers the full spectrum of engineering, including mechanical engineering, maintenance, fabrication, welding and machining.

Marty says while Junior is learning all aspects of engineering, his personality does favour larger projects where the impact of his work is more clear.

“To me he seems more focused on the fabrication and welding side because it fits with his personality. He can build a big thing and look at it and see his accomplishment. But on the machining side you’re only making a small part of a bigger thing, so I don’t believe he’d get the same amount of satisfaction out of that.

“I think he likes taking a big pile of metal and making it into something worthwhile.”

Junior Mehau is proud of his engineering work
Junior Mehau with some of the agricultural equipment he helped to build in his current job at Fairbrother Industries
Taking the lead

With his drive to excel on the job, it’s not surprising that Junior has big plans for the future.

“I want to own my own business one day and do my own thing – to put my little two cents into the engineering world.”

With a wife and two-year-old daughter, supporting his family is a big motivation for Junior.

“I want to move up in my career to get us a better life, and they think that’s awesome.”

Marty says Junior is well on his way to achieving his goals for the future.

“The first part of becoming a leader is you’ve got to want to be one. You’ve got to want to be able to improve the people working with you. By wanting that, Junior’s already sort of halfway there.

“To be a leader in engineering you’ve got to know engineering as well – it’s impossible to be an apprentice and also be the foreman. But once Junior’s finished his apprenticeship, that means he’s got all the knowledge he needs.”

Junior encourages those who are thinking about learning a trade to step up and take action.

“Don’t be scared, just go for it – anything’s possible. You’ve got to take the step and go for what you want, because you’re not going to get it if you just sit back and wait for it.”

 

Employer Spotlight: Fairbrother Industries

This year marks 40 years in business for Fairbrother Industries, which specialises in manufacturing industry-leading farming equipment such as post drivers. Production manager Marty Mitchell says apprentices are a crucial part of the team. “We’ve always offered apprenticeships and have had a number of Māori and Pasifika apprentices over the years. We currently have two apprentices on the books and are always open to more – we’re always looking for the next bunch of leaders to come through.”

Competenz

Competenz is an Industry Training Organisation (ITO) and apprenticeship provider. Like other ITOs, Competenz develops national trades qualifications and helps make sure the industry has a continuous supply of skilled workers to grow New Zealand businesses. Iani Nemani, trades career advisor, Pasifika, says Competenz is always happy to help trainees find work in their trade. “One way of supporting industry is to connect young people like Junior with employers and industry training, ensuring they have the opportunity to earn while they learn and become qualified without the fuss.”

What you can learn from Junior
  • Want to impress your new boss? Ask them for advice on how you can achieve your career goals. This shows your ambition and enthusiasm for your trade, which are traits employers are always looking for. Plus, it lets your boss know what you want for your future (such as an apprenticeship or management position) which means they’re better able to help you get there.
  • Worried you might choose the wrong career? Iani Nemani from Competenz says the key is to give something a go, like Junior. “Choosing a career is big business. In Junior’s case, he did the right thing – he tried a few things out before finally choosing what he’s most passionate about. At the end of the day, the most important thing for young people is to start something, and then as Junior did, settle on the career that you’re most interested in.”

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