Jharden Davis (Ngāti Hine) grew up in a small town in the Bay of Islands, where most people he knew got a job at the local meatworks. After leaving school, he joined them for a few years – along with trying his hand at shearing sheep and working as a labourer. 

But Jharden had dreams of being a qualified tradie, so he moved to Auckland with his girlfriend. With hard work, plenty of study, and support through an MPTT scholarship, the 23-year-old landed an apprenticeship at Aotea Electrical in January 2019. We caught up with Jharden to find out how it’s all going, and his future plans to help others get qualified.

So Jharden, tell us about what made you move to Auckland. 

I was just sick of working at the meatworks. Back home, the majority of us work at Affco in Moerewa (a meat processing facility). I know a lot of people at the meatworks – pretty much my family, eh. Uncles, cousins. 

Everyone calls it the university, you know, because once you go, you usually don’t leave. I was making pretty good money there, actually. But I didn’t want to stay there for the rest of my life and know nothing else except butchering. I wanted to do something else with my life. 

Why did you choose to train as a sparky?

I just knew electrical was big bucks. I had three major things I wanted to do, which were architectural design, quantity surveying or being a sparky. 

I did a week of quantity surveying, and that was really boring. Write down your measurements, go back to the office. But I don’t like being in the office, I like being out and about. 

With architectural design, my uncle is one, so I worked with him for a bit. I liked the job, but again, you’re sitting down in the office all day, just drawing and making plans. I wanted to be outside. 

With electrical, I was determined. I was like, this is the third one, I’ve really got to decide because I’ve come to Auckland with no knowledge of anything. So I thought, ‘I’ve got to put my head down and do the study and get qualified’. 

How is your apprenticeship going so far?

I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the pre-trades course I did at Unitec really helped me out with all the theory work. I waited about five years after school before going back to uni, so I’d forgotten everything – so it’s made it a lot easier to understand everything that’s come at me.

If you’re a good worker, it’s not hard to do the work. You just need to actually study, because the things you learn will apply to you when you do qualify. Like, a lot of what you study, you get to see it but you can’t actually do it, because you’re not allowed to touch live work while you’re an apprentice. Most things you study, you have to be qualified to do. In the end it’s worth studying hard because you won’t use all of it now, but later on, you will use it. 

It’s a different job once you get qualified. A lot more responsibility falls on your shoulders. Apprentices are there and we can do a lot of stuff, but in the end you have to be qualified to sign everything off. 

Has your job changed at all due to Covid-19?

Because of Covid, we’re only allowed a few guys on site at a time, so I’ve been moved to a different site. I’d been working on a 12-storey apartment building at Silo Park, but right now, I’m in Henderson working with four men and one woman. We’re all apprentices except for our foreman, who’s been qualified longer than I’ve been alive. 

At work, masks are compulsory. We have to use hand sanitiser when we come in and out, and sign in on the Covid tracer app. We keep a two-metre distance from each other, unless you really can’t, and then you try not to touch. Everyone’s pretty wary of catching the virus, so it’s all well looked after on site and everyone keeps their distance. 

What about your bookwork – has that been impacted by the lockdown?

The lockdown gave a lot of apprentices time to look at their bookwork and actually study, which was good. Everyone has come back a bit more knowledgeable. 

We have night class to attend, which is compulsory, and that’s on Zoom sessions at the moment because of Covid. The guys in my class are really good. Everyone just mutes themselves while the tutor is speaking, and once he asks if there are any questions, you unmute yourself to speak. 

What are your dreams for the future?

My biggest goal once I’m a qualified sparky is to start my own company back home in the Bay of Islands, and help Māori, or anyone really who’s up there, to get their apprenticeship. It’s a really good trade, and I want to help others get into it.

What advice do you have for those looking to train as an electrician?

I think doing an electrical trade is something you don’t want to waste your time with if you’re not serious about it. Don’t clock out halfway through, because that’s no help to yourself or the company you’re working for. Stick with it.

Also, just be a good worker in general. Show up, be trustworthy, be keen and eager to learn a trade. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. 

Electrical is a really good trade. It gives you a lot of job opportunities, worldwide. You can travel with your New Zealand ticket and it’s still valid. So put in the work, especially the bookwork, that’s most important. And yeah – sparkies make a lot of dollars.

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