How to turn your employment trial into a career

90 Day Trial Period Countdown

**Updated November 2019**

Once you’re offered a job, there’s often one more challenge before you’re a permanent staff member – the trial period. Trials can seem scary, but if you know what your goals are and what employers are looking for, the trial period is a great time to show what you’re made of. Here’s how to impress your new boss and turn your trial into a pathway to getting qualified.
What are trial periods?

When you first start a job, your employer might want to have you work for them on a trial basis for a few months. As of May 2019, only an employer with 19 or fewer employees can use trial periods.

A trial period means both you and your new boss can suss each other out before committing to a long-term working relationship.

During a trial period, you’ll work and get paid as normal and you should be treated the same as any other employee. But if for some reason it doesn’t work out, you or the employer can end the relationship more easily than if you were already a permanent member of staff.

Many trial periods last 90 days. They can be shorter than that, but not longer. You can find out more about how trial periods work on the employment.govt.nz website.

Getting personal

Trial periods can sound scary. But remember, you’re not expected to know everything or be super skilled in your trade.

Mostly, your employer just wants to make sure you’re reliable and have a good attitude, says MPTT navigator Shirley Murray from the Solomon Group.

“Turn up every day, have a good attitude, be drug and alcohol free, show initiative and be prepared to listen and engage.

“What we hear all the time from employers is they’d prefer tauira to have a good attitude and time management skills and be keen to learn than to have heaps of experience.

Speak up

Good communication skills can impress your boss even more than your ability in your trade.
It can feel weird at first, but it’s important to be honest and upfront about any issues you have. Even if you think your boss might not be happy about what you have to say, they’ll appreciate that you told them about it.

Here are some things you might want to talk to your boss about:

  • Let them know what your goals are (like getting an apprenticeship or being the site manager one day), and ask them for advice on how you can get there.
  • If you have family commitments you might need to take care of, like picking your kids up from daycare if they get sick, talk to your boss about it early on. That way, they won’t be caught off-guard if it happens.
  • If you have a health issue or personal circumstances that might impact your work, telling your boss about it means they can better support you in your job.
Start early

Your trial period is also a chance for the employer to consider you as a future apprentice.

An apprenticeship is more than a job. It’s an agreement between you, your employer and an apprenticeship provider, and it’s the best path to getting qualified in your trade.

The first step to getting an apprenticeship is to let your employer know that’s your goal – and you should do that as soon as possible.

Not all employers take on apprentices. That’s because having an apprentice means committing to helping them get qualified, and not all companies have the resources to do that. So Shirley says it’s a good idea to find out early on if an apprenticeship is possible.

“I recommend establishing whether there is the possibility of an apprenticeship prior to your initial interview, just in case there is not one being considered by the employer.”

That way, your employer will know you want an apprenticeship from the start and can help you work towards achieving that goal.

Keep communicating

Even if you told your employer that you’re looking for an apprenticeship when you first met with them, you might still need to remind them about it later.

Remember, your boss has a lot to think about, so it’s helpful to them if you bring up the topic rather than waiting for them to remember to talk to you about it. This also shows your initiative and enthusiasm – both qualities employers look for in an apprentice.

But you don’t have to do it alone. Your MPTT navigator and your apprenticeship provider are both there to help, says Shirley.

“Get your employer’s contact details so you can to bring that information back to your support people – such as your MPTT navigator, apprenticeship provider, or tutor. That way, they have the opportunity to talk to the employer directly on your behalf.”

You’ll find contact details for all MPTT navigators on our contact page. To get in touch with an apprenticeship provider, visit their website or ask your navigator to put you in touch with them.


Not sure who your apprenticeship provider will be? The list below shows some of the biggest providers depending on your trade:

  • BCITO (building and construction)
  • MITO (automotive)
  • Competenz (butchery, refrigeration and air conditioning, welding and fabrication)
  • Skills (electrical, plumbing and gasfitting)
  • Connexis (infrastructure)
  • HITO (hairdressing)
  • Primary ITO (horticulture and landscaping)
  • ServiceIQ (hospitality)

Engineering his future

Junior at work
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.”

Mechanic’s break of a lifetime

Think you can’t land a great job straight out of your studies? Find out how Jason Pou’s positive attitude, work experience and enthusiasm helped him score an apprenticeship at luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz shortly after finishing his course.

Jason Pou admits to feeling a bit out of his depth when he went for an interview with Mercedes-Benz a few months ago.

The 26-year-old West Aucklander had only recently graduated from autotronics at Unitec and had spent no time in a proper automotive workshop.

“When I found out about the Mercedes job, I thought I’d give it a shot. But I imagined they’d only hire well-experienced people,” Jason says.

However, Jason had been in touch with automotive industry training organisation MITO – one of MPTT’s partners. Seeing that Jason presented well and had a great attitude, MITO put in a recommendation for him with Mercedes.Having initially thought his chances of getting the job were slim, Jason jumped at the chance to meet his potential employer for an interview.

“They took me around the workshop and there were cars I’d never seen before. So flash – it was crazy. There were cars selling for well over $100,000. It was a bit overwhelming.”

Despite his lack of workshop experience, Jason had plenty of work-readiness skills to show from his nine years in retail at Supercheap Auto.

Being able to show he was a reliable worker with a get-up-and-go attitude clearly shone through and he landed the job – much to his surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all! I’m starting in January and can’t wait.”

Opening doors

MITO’s acting regional manager Mark Lawrence says the training organisation had previously interviewed Jason and was happy to recommend him when the role at Mercedes came up.

“He was work ready and knew what he wanted to do. We were happy with the way he interviewed and his motivation and passion for the trade. Plus he was already working, which showed his good work ethic.”

The role at Mercedes is a fantastic and sought-after opportunity that Jason has managed to secure, says Mark.

“Every mechanic dreams of working on nice cars. Working for a company like Mercedes-Benz is prestigious and it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come up very often. Jason’s achievement is the outcome we’re always looking for.”

Jason’s story is proof that employers in the trades sector place value on candidates having a positive attitude and willingness to learn. They also look for employment experience, even if it’s from a different sector – like in Jason’s case.

Why not get paid for it?

Despite working his way up to an assistant manager position at Supercheap Auto, Jason finally made the decision to pursue an automotive career last year.

“I’ve been fixing my cars at home since I’ve had a car and I thought, ‘Why not get paid for it? I pretty much do that anyway.’

“If I want to get a bit of money and go somewhere in 10 years time, I want a better paying job than I could have gotten without a qualification. I’ve already got a good base knowledge of how to fix cars so that made me go and learn it as a trade.”

Shifting out of neutral

Jason’s only regret is waiting so long to get a formal qualification.

“I was thinking about studying for years but it was hard to leave my job. I’d applied for an automotive course after high school but it was too full.

I got a full-time job and I kept thinking about applying to study,but then I’d get a promotion at work. Now I wish I gone to study and get a trade earlier.”

After eventually making the decision to get a trade qualification, Jason successfully completed a 12-month Certificate in Autotronics at Unitec.

Being of Ngapuhi descent, he was eligible for a full-fees scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Auckland, plus ongoing coaching from one of our Navigators.

“Getting the scholarship was great because it meant I didn’t have to pay for my fees. Now I don’t have much of a student loan to pay, so that’s a big help.”

Through his job at Mercedes, Jason will now be working towards MITO’s New Zealand Certificate in Automotive Engineering – Light Vehicle. He will also benefit from support from an advisor at MITO, to help him complete his qualification.

 

Jason Pou receiving scholarship
Jason Pou receiving MITO scholarship from Brian Messer and Mark Lawrence at Unitec Awards Evening, 13 November 2017

 

Avoiding the shortcuts

Jason will be working for Mercedes as an apprentice mechanic and he’s excited about his future.

“I definitely wanted to do an apprenticeship. It will probably take me about three years to complete but it means I’ll be fully qualified so I can work around the world one day if I want to.”

And in case you’re wondering what kind of car Jason drives, it’s a deceptively-quick Mazdaspeed Axela turbo.

“I like being out in it because, when people pull up beside me, they think it’s a nana car. But it’s a 2.3 litre turbo so it’s way faster than they realise!”

Are you interested in a career as a mechanic or automotive technician? Find out more about how to train, where to train, and how to find an apprenticeship.