Jason Lemalu had “grown up bills” to pay and couldn’t afford to have his income drop by going back to study construction. But thanks to some persistence, he secured an apprenticeship where he can learn on the job.

Many tradies start their career with formal training through polytechnic – but that route isn’t for everyone.

Instead of spending a year or two learning the basics of building before looking for employment, Jason Lemalu needed to go straight into an apprenticeship and learn on the job.

The 28-year-old couldn’t afford to have his income drop by going back to study.

“I’d spent about eight years as a personal trainer and I loved it but I no longer saw a future in it for me. I saw multiple opportunities in the building industry and decided that’s what I was going to do,” Jason explains.

“I wanted to do the theory and training but the loss of income was a problem because I’ve got grown-up bills to pay now.”

So he began approaching employers directly to ask for an apprenticeship – a job that includes training towards his building qualification.

He got his foot in the door with a recladding company in Auckland – “just laboring, getting my head around the building industry” – but then moved to New Plymouth when his partner landed her first job out of law school at a New Plymouth firm.

“When I got there, I tidied up my CV, confirmed references then went door knocking to find work,” says Jason.

“I visited offices and rang around everywhere else and got turned down every time. But I persisted and sent them my CV anyway and a couple of the bigger companies got back to me, impressed with my approach.”

One of those bigger companies was Clelands Construction, who last December offered Jason a temporary labouring contract.

“I went and met with a few of the directors the next morning and when I came in later that afternoon to get my contract, they said they had a good feeling about me and they decided to slot me straight into an apprenticeship. I was stoked as! It’s exactly what I was after.”

Getting support

Jason’s apprenticeship is being managed by BCITO and his first year of apprenticeship fees have been covered by a pilot programme managed by MPTT Auckland.  

Kirk Sargent, MPTT Auckland project manager, says the trial programme is now full while trainees like Jason are monitored to see how they benefit from the scheme’s support.

“Jason is part of a pilot programme where trainees can access the same support as our other scholars, including mentoring and a $1000 tools grant, without needing to take time out of employment. It’s an ideal option for trainees who’ve demonstrated they’re ready to start their career directly with an employer, but may need some additional support to be successful.”

Kirk says taking the direct route – skipping a course and going straight into an apprenticeship – is not right for most trainees, but it was the most efficient way for Jason to reach his goals.

Jason, who is Samoan, qualified for the pilot programme because he’d shown he was ready for work but also faced the challenge of changing careers. That meant he’d benefit from the scheme’s extra support.

Trainees are much more likely to succeed if they have support from people who know the industry, says Kirk.

“Starting an apprenticeship has an impact on your work and home life.  Those transitions aren’t always easy. No matter what pathway a trainee takes into the trades, it’s crucial they’re supported to reduce the risks, both for the trainees and for employers.”

Hard work pays off

Now a few months into the job, Jason says he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m loving it. Clelands have got me on one of their biggest jobs and I’m looked after really well. I’m stoked.”

He strongly encourages others looking for a job to get out there and meet potential employers in person.

“Put your hand up and show employers there’s a reason to hire you even if jobs aren’t advertised. Instead of just sending in a CV and joining the long queue of people doing the same thing, go and meet them face-to-face. That’s not easy but they respect it in the end.”

MPTT Auckland hopes the pilot scheme will eventually become a fully-funded programme so more of the right trainees can benefit from its support while continuing to work, says Kirk.

“It provides an alternative, flexible pathway for the right people, reducing risks for employers and trainees. It also supports our goal of delivering a skilled workforce for employers and sustainable careers for trainees.”

Although the pilot programme is full, there are still scholarships available to help you learn a trade for free. If you’re Māori or Pasifika and aged 16-40, find out more here