From work experience to apprenticeship

A summer’s work experience in a busy bus workshop has been the key to a brighter future for good mates Kamosi Finau and Puna Taruia. Find out how these automotive trainees turned work experience into apprenticeships – and how you can do it too.

Talking to an employer can be scary, but it’s one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. Just ask Kamosi and Puna, whose introduction to an automotive employer led to a job over summer – and an apprenticeship offer.

The pair showed up for work experience at Ritchies Murphy Transport Solutions in Takanini during their last term of study at Manukau Institute of Technology. Thanks to their hard work and keen attitude, they made an impression on the workshop manager, Dave Robb (pictured with Kamosi and Puna above).

“I brought in half a dozen students for an introduction to a real engineering worksite,” says Dave, who manages four apprentices and 12 senior staff in the workshop and panel shop, maintaining and repairing a fleet of 160 buses and 40 cars.

“Some of the students were a bit cocky and some didn’t seem interested. But these two were writing things down and really taking notice,” says Dave.

“It’s about attitude in this game — you don’t have to know anything, you just have to be really keen to learn.”

Putting yourself forward

Fronting up to an employer is really worth doing, even if you feel scared or whakamā (shy).

“Just knock on the door and offer to sweep the floor,” says Dave. “Work experience gives you an idea of what you want to do and gives you the inside running when a job comes up.”

Although they were lucky enough to meet Dave through the course, Puna says approaching employers for work experience takes courage, “especially if you’re a bit shy like me!”. But putting yourself out there shows the employer you’ll be willing to put in effort on the job.

And once you’re in the door, you can show your enthusiasm by keeping busy, says Kamosi.

“Work experience is your chance to get on board and show you’re keen.”

“You can never stand there with your hands in your pockets. You’ve got to always be watching the tools and the ways of doing things.”

Getting started

work experience landed Puna an apprenticeship

Puna, 29, grew up with a love for cars — fixing and modifying them in the family garage in Mangere. The Taruia family whakapapa to Niue on his mother’s side and Cook Islands on his father’s. Puna has a sister, and two brothers who are qualified tradies.

He’d been working for seven years as a process worker in a food industry factory and, with his family’s support, he decided to “step up to better things and get qualified”. He started with a NZ Certificate in Automotive Engineering (Level 3) at MIT with help from an MPTT scholarship, which is how he met Mosi.

Kamosi is currently doing his apprenticeship in mechanical engineering

Kamosi Finau, 30, is a married father of a 14-year-old son and three girls aged 11, 5 and 2. Mosi was born and raised in Otara and his family come from Tonga, where they usually try to visit every couple of years.

Having been forklift driving and loading trucks at Foodstuffs for 10 years, Kamosi decided to make a change.

“My father-in-law is a mechanic and he was pushing me to think about a career. I didn’t know much about mechanics, but I enrolled at MIT and things just opened up for me.”

A foot in the door

After laying the groundwork with unpaid experience during their last term at MIT, Puna and Mosi applied for paid work experience at Ritchies over the summer holidays.

“We thought we’d give them both a go,” says Dave. “They started off cleaning dirt from the roofs of the buses. And they turned out to be so keen and useful we buddied them up with a mechanic and extended their paid work experience by three weeks.

“Now — and they weren’t expecting this — we’ve just offered them both apprenticeships,” says Dave.

“We were only looking for one apprentice, but they’re both good blokes and they seem to like being here, so we’ve bought them a toolbox each and look forward to having them around.”

work experienceDave says Kamosi (left) and Puna (right) fit in perfectly with a team that works hard and safely, but has a few laughs along the way.

Puna says getting an email from the chief executive, Todd Murphy, was a huge boost.

“It just gave me massive confidence to know I’m in a job with a future, getting great training and learning work practices from the old boys.”

Dave says he’s always keen to meet enthusiastic learners, and encourages trainees to introduce themselves to potential employers.

“I might be a bit old-school and my approach takes a bit of courage, but I reckon if you front up and knock on the door of a place you want to work, you’ll nearly always get listened to.

“People can see your character when you look them in the eye. It’s a whole lot more effective than sitting behind a computer and answering a whole lot of ads. It gets your foot in the door.”

Work experience helps you get your foot in the door and learn heaps about your trade – and many employers won’t hire you without it. Find out more about how to get work experience.


Make your mark

Work experience is essential for building your skills and adds valuable trades experience to your CV. In fact, a lot of employers won’t hire someone who hasn’t done work experience. Check out these tips on how to land this work and make a good impression on your boss.

  • It’s normal to be scared to talk to an employer, but knocking on their door is well worth the effort. It shows initiative and a positive attitude, which is exactly what employers are looking for.
  • To help you feel more confident approaching an employer, do a bit of research by checking out the company’s website and talk to your navigator for advice.
  • When you show up for work experience, bring a small notepad and pen and take notes on what your boss says. This shows you’re keen to be there and will help you remember what you learn.
  • Ask questions. This shows you’re paying attention and want to learn more. Remember, employers don’t expect you to know much when you’re starting out. Instead, they’re looking for enthusiastic workers who value the chance to be there.

Crossing the finish line:
Get qualified on time

Finishing your apprenticeship means you can stop studying and start enjoying being a qualified tradie – including earning more money and having more job opportunities.

But getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint. From your pre-trades course to the end of your apprenticeship you’ll be training for several years, so it’s important to stay motivated along the way.

The exact time it takes depends on your trade, and whether you already have some of the skills you need (like if you’ve worked as a hammerhand). But no matter what your situation, the sooner you get certified, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits. Plus, if you wait too long without progressing, you might need to pay another apprenticeship fee.

Remember, you’re never alone in your training journey – there’s heaps of support to help you get your qualification. So read on for how to ensure you complete your apprenticeship in good time, and what to do when problems come up.

Why get qualified?

It takes work to get your qualification, so it’s important to remember why you’re doing it.

Jodi Franklin from MITO says there are a lot of benefits to getting qualified besides not having to study anymore.

“A lot of things happen when you get qualified. It’s not just a certificate; generally you’re rewarded in the workplace with a pay increase. And the world’s your oyster in terms of being able to take your qualification all over the world. If you want to go and live somewhere else for a change of scenery, you can take your qualification with you.”

On the other hand, if you don’t get qualified, you’ll limit your opportunities and how much you can earn, says Jodi.

“It doesn’t matter how close you get to completing your qualification. Even if you finish 99%, it’s not recognised until you complete it.”

So if you want more money and more mana on the job, and the freedom to take your skills overseas or start your own business, get your certification sorted as soon as you can.

Take away: You need to get qualified to get the benefits from your training, like more money and more job opportunities.
Good timing

When you sign on for an apprenticeship, your training provider (called an Industry Training Organisation, or ITO) will let you know how long it’ll ideally take you to complete your qualification. Depending on your trade, this is usually between 2 years and 4 ½ years of being an apprentice.

But it’s important to know that apprenticeships aren’t just about the hours you spend on site. Instead, you need to show the skills you’ve developed, says Doug Leef from BCITO.

“It’s all about competency. We all learn differently and, as such, progression from person to person differs. A lot of this comes down to the relationships forged on the job site and the quality of training and supervision given to trainees.”

Your employer is responsible for making sure you get the practical training you need during your apprenticeship, says Doug.

“That onus falls on the employer. It’s their responsibility to get trainees qualified. When they sign the apprentice up, we make the employer aware of the scope of work required.”

Take away: Apprentices need to show they have the right practical skills. Your boss is responsible for making sure you learn all the skills you need on the job, but you can help move things along quickly. Have a chat to your boss or ITO training advisor about the skills you need to learn, and make a plan for what you want to get signed off at your next meeting with your training advisor.

Getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint.

In theory

But it’s not enough to just show up to work and do what your employer says. As an apprentice, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s where theory or book work comes in.

“It can be a bit daunting to have all this theory to learn,” says Doug. “But you’ve got to understand the underpinning theory and the reasons behind why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not just throwing houses up; it’s about compliance, accountability and administration.”

The biggest challenge for most apprentices is finding time for their theory work on top of working full-time. Depending on your trade and schedule, you might do your theory work during a block course (where you go into a classroom with other trainees on certain days), a night class after working hours, or at home in your spare time.

“It’s about managing your hours,” says Aimee Hutcheson from Skills. “Most apprentices are flat tack as soon as they enter the industry, so they need to work with their employer to fit in time for their theory work.”

To make sure your theory work doesn’t build up and get overwhelming, make time to work on it regularly, says Jodi.

“The most successful apprentices are the ones who get into a routine. It might help to go along to a night class. Otherwise, you need to find that one night where you’re not playing rugby or busy with other commitments. Even just a couple of hours a week makes a big difference. Doing a little bit and often is the key to success.”

Take away: Make time every week to do a bit of your theory work, so you don’t fall behind. When you regularly do work towards your qualification, you know you’re building your skills and getting closer to being a skilled tradie. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone – there’s heaps of support available, so if you need help or have a question, talk to your boss or training advisor.
Needing help – it’s normal

Many trainees feel whakamā (shy or embarrassed) when asking for help. But the truth is, everyone needs help at some point in their training.

Remember, it’s normal to need to ask questions sometimes, and no-one expects you to know everything.

“We’re all embarrassed to ask for help from time to time,” says Doug. “But you need to put your hand up early. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”

One reason you might need support is if you don’t understand something your tutor says in class. It’s really important to speak up, because no question is a dumb question. Chances are, other students are wondering about the same thing.

“We do have people who have had to resit exams because of the spiral effect of being too shy to ask questions in class,” says Aimee. “Then they’re resitting because they’ve never had the relationship with their tutor to not be whakamā to ask questions and ask for help.”

Having learning differences, like dyslexia, can also mean you need to ask for help. If you’re not sure if that applies to you, don’t worry. Your ITO will do a quick test to see if you’d benefit from help with literacy or numeracy – and there’s plenty of support available.

“You can talk to your employer or tutor if you need help, or your training advisor (from your ITO) is just a phone call away if you have any questions or concerns,” says Aimee.

“You’ve got to build that confidence to be able to ask questions and ask for help if you’re struggling. At the end of the day, we all want you to get through and get qualified, and to feel like you’re achieving as well – to understand what you’re learning, not just check a box.”

Take away: Everyone needs help sometimes, so make sure you speak up if you don’t understand something or are finding anything difficult.
Work worries

At some point during your apprenticeship, you might need to change jobs.

“Some trainees want to change employers because they’re travelling too far for work, or there’s not enough work, or maybe they’re not getting on with people on site,” says Doug. “It’s not the trainee or the employer’s fault – it’s just life.”

It’s okay to change jobs if you need to, but remember that an apprenticeship is an agreement between three parties: you, your employer and your apprenticeship provider. So when you leave your employer, you break the apprenticeship contract and you’ll need to sign another one with your next employer.

Before you change jobs, make sure your new boss is supportive of you doing an apprenticeship, says Jodi.

“You don’t have to stick it out in an employment situation that’s not right for you. And it’s the same if apprentices are laid off because their employer doesn’t have enough work for them or they want experience in other parts of the industry.

“You can change jobs and continue your apprenticeship, if you have the support of your new employer.”

If you’ve already had parts of your apprenticeship signed off and completed, don’t worry. The work you’ve already completed will stay in the system and you can transfer that to your new job.

But remember, changing jobs often takes time, which can delay your progress. For example, your new employer might want you to do a trial for a few months before giving you an apprenticeship. So change jobs if you need to, but don’t do it lightly.

Take away: It’s best to stay with your employer if you can. If you need to change jobs, make sure your new boss wants to give you an apprenticeship.
Need a break?

Sometimes life gets in the way of your learning. If you’re not able to work for a while, then you might be able to take a brief break from your apprenticeship, as long as your boss is on board.

“If you take a short break due to injury, then as long as your employer is aware of it and you’re still employed by the same company, it’s not an issue,” says Doug.

“For example, if you’ve hurt your knee playing rugby and you’re on ACC then we’ll say, ‘This person’s not working; they’re still in their apprenticeship, but their employer and ITO recognise they’re not fit for work’. So we can put your apprenticeship on hold until you can work again.”

But remember, you can’t put your apprenticeship on hold forever. You need to talk to your boss and ITO about why you need a break, and make a plan for when you’ll return.

“Apprenticeships can time out,” says Aimee. “Sometimes you can get an extension, but not by much. If you run out of time, you can be charged a fee because it’s almost like you’re signing up for that year of your apprenticeship again. You can’t just put it on hold indefinitely.”

Take away: If you need a break, talk to your employer and ITO and see if they can support your break from work. Just make sure you don’t leave it too long before you come back to your apprenticeship, because the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to get back into it – plus you might be charged an extra fee.

Want to get qualified on time? Do this

Shannon Ngawharau

Keen to enjoy the money and mana that come with being qualified? With focus and dedication, MPTT alumni Shannon Ngawharau finished his construction apprenticeship in great time. Read on for tips on how you can finish your apprenticeship on time, too.

Most apprenticeships typically take around 3½ to 4½ years. But it isn’t just about the hours you put in. To get qualified, you need to show you have certain skills. That means if you’re motivated, you can finish faster – like Shannon.

Having previously served in the Royal New Zealand Navy, Shannon had leaned how to be disciplined. By working hard and focusing on ticking the right boxes, the 36-year-old completed his construction apprenticeship in around two years. If you’re thinking you could never find that kind of motivation, it might help to know that Shannon has been there too.

“I already did an electrical apprenticeship and that took me quite a long time – about 5½ years. So I know what it’s like to be unmotivated and I know what it’s like to be motivated as well.”

Speed isn’t everything, and it’s important to take the time you need to properly learn your trade. But by doing some of what Shannon did, you can help ensure you finish your apprenticeship in good time – so you can enjoy being a qualified tradie.

Having the goal of being a qualified builder helped Shannon stay focused on completing his apprenticeship.

Building speed

Although Shannon (Ngāti Ruanui) had previously trained as an electronic technician through the NZ Navy, when he signed up to learn construction he was new to the trade. In fact, he hadn’t worked with timber since woodwork class in high school.

After completing a pre-trades construction course at Unitec in 2015, Shannon began his apprenticeship in 2016. This involved signing a three-way contract between himself, industry training organisation BCITO, and his employer Your Home Construction, which specialises in high-end residential and light commercial work.

Having learned the theory of his trade during his pre-trades course, Shannon worked hard to show this knowledge in his paperwork. He also made a plan for what practical skills he’d need to get signed off when he met with his training advisor every three months.

“It was a combination of things that helped me get it done pretty fast. My boss had a wide scope of work available, so I kind of got to choose where I’d work.

“I planned all the practical units that I wanted to get signed off every three months, and worked on those skills before I met with my training advisor.”

Shannon’s boss Charles Lindsay, owner of Your Home Construction, says Shannon’s planning and determination quickly paid off.

“He approached getting qualified like a business, with a goal and a plan to achieve it. His paperwork was flawless. He had photos and everything. You’d be hard pressed to find another like him, I’ll tell you that much.

“I’ve said to all my other apprentices, if you do anything even close to what Shannon did, you’re going to pass with flying colours and get it done in good time.”

Shannon (left) with his boss Charles Lindsay, owner of Your Home Construction.

Constructing a career

From the start of his pre-trades course at Unitec, Shannon was determined to finish his apprenticeship and get qualified.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Once I’d dedicated myself to the course, I knew I wanted to carry on and get my qualification.

“I worked with another guy who did the same course as me and he chose to just work as a labourer, but I went the other way. There was a little bit more work for me to get qualified, but it was always something I was going to do anyway. If you’re working in the industry, you might as well get something out of it at the same time.”

A trades qualification stays with you as you look for jobs or travel the world, Shannon points out.

“Once you have it, you can take it pretty much anywhere. You can go and work in Australia if you like. Your qualification is recognised in a lot of places.

“If I was just a labourer, then every time I got a new job I’d have to prove myself based on my work. But now that I have a qualification, I can back myself up with that, as well as showing them what I can do on the job.”

He encourages other trainees to focus on what they want for their long-term future.

“You just need to have the right attitude if you want to get qualified. You have to think about the end goal, not the short-term goal.

“Visualise that, because there are going to be times when you’re doing long hours or doing the same mundane job – carrying materials around site or whatever – and you just have to keep in mind what you want to get out of it.”

Charles says completing an apprenticeship and getting qualified is a huge improvement to a trainee’s life and career.

“You’ve got to look into your future and think about where you want to be in life. If you want to be a hammerhand, you’re going to plateau at one level for the rest of your life. But if you want to be the boss dog and earn big money, you’ve got to get your apprenticeship done and get qualified. So get your qualification done. Just do it.”

Before each meeting with his training advisor, Shannon planned the skills he wanted to get signed off and made sure he learned those skills on the job.

High rise

Now that he’s qualified, Shannon still works for Your Home Construction and received a pay rise when he finished his apprenticeship.

“At my age I’m just happy working for someone else. I’m currently finishing off a Diploma in Construction Management, so I’m kind of hoping to transition into project management down the track.”

Not having to worry about working towards his qualification anymore is a huge plus for Shannon.

“The big thing for me is that it takes the weight off my shoulders. Now I can relax and learn the craft more instead of having to think about my next meeting with my training advisor.”

There was no big change in how people treated him at work, mostly because his team assumed he was already qualified.

“Charles put me in charge of the sites I was working on anyway, even when I was still an apprentice. I think he knew what type of person I was, you know, and he had an idea that even though I was new to the trade, I wasn’t completely fresh because of my previous experience in the Navy.

“So once I did get qualified, the other people on site were like, ‘Oh true, we didn’t know you weren’t qualified’. They just assumed I was already a qualified builder because they didn’t think an apprentice would be running jobs.”

Shannon’s motivated attitude is what made him a great candidate to run jobs on site, says Charles.

“You can teach building skills, but you can’t train someone’s mindset to be keen. If someone’s not keen, you might get a really good builder out of them, but they’re not going to go that extra distance and push themselves so much.

“Most apprentices just ask, ‘what are we doing next?’ Whereas Shannon was always thinking forward, and that’s the hardest thing to find. A lot of people just go with the flow, but he always had a game plan of what to do next, and he’d even start making a list of materials we’d need for that job.”

Enthusiasm for the job is the main thing employers look for when hiring, says Charles.

“If someone’s keen they’re going to want to come to work every day, they’re going to want to work hard, and they’re going to want to learn. And that’s something Shannon’s had. He just wanted to get qualified and learn everything he could as fast as he could.”

 

 
How to finish your apprenticeship on time – or even faster

  • Make time for your theory work.

    As part of your assessment, you’ll need to show you understand the theory behind what you do. So don’t leave your paperwork until the last minute. Make time to do a bit of paperwork each week, so you stay on top of it and can remember what you learn.

  • Plan the practical work you need to get signed off.

    It’s up to your boss to make sure you learn the skills you need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show initiative. Talk to your boss about the skills you need to get signed off, and how you might be able to do that before your next meeting with your training advisor. Don’t be shy – your boss will likely be impressed by your motivation.

  • Stick with your employer if you can.

    When you change jobs, you break your apprenticeship contract. Even though you can continue your apprenticeship with a new employer, it can take a few months before you sign the new contract. So by staying with one employer for your whole apprenticeship like Shannon did, you’re more likely to finish quickly. If you do need to change jobs along the way, make sure your new employer is happy to offer you an apprenticeship.

For more tips on getting qualified on time, see our blog on how to cross the finish line of your training.

‘We were chiefs – we’re a people of leaders’

After more than 47 years in the trades industry, Mark Katterns has some advice for new trainees. Get help from a mentor, show up to work on time – and live with your mum. Find out how the project director at Hawkins climbed the career ladder in his trade, and how you can do it too.

Mark Katterns believes it’s important to dream big. It’s not about just getting a job – it’s about becoming a leader in your industry.

But how? He says the keys are to commit to your mahi and find someone to look up to who can show you the way forward.

“Don’t do what I did and get into a flat with the boys, ‘cos you’ll end up getting into trouble,” he jokes. “You should stay at home with your mum. Live there for as long as possible.”

On a more serious note, Mark (Nga Puhi, Ngati Kawa) says Māori and Pasifika are often natural leaders but trainees need a mentor, like the MPTT navigators, who can guide them towards those leadership roles.

“When Māori and Pasifika get confident in what we do, you can’t stop us. That’s why we were chiefs. We’re a people of leaders.”

Leading the way

Mark, who now directs and manages large projects for construction giant Hawkins, credits his mum as being his first mentor.

As a young teenager growing up in Waitangi, his only career plans were to follow in the footsteps of most people he knew.

“I thought I’d work at the freezing works in Moerewa in the Far North, or end up working in forestry with my uncles and cousins.”

In the meantime, Mark had fallen in with a wayward crowd and was getting up to mischief. But when he turned 15, his mum intervened. She put him on a bus to Auckland to learn a trade through the Māori Affairs Trade Training scheme, in which the MPTT programme has its roots.

“Having a role model is so important. I was the oldest son and my mum saw something in me, so she was my mentor to start with. It’s important to have someone to look up to, because they will show you the way.”

Mentors, such as MPTT’s navigators, help trainees get more confident with finding a job and can show them the way forward when they’re not sure what to do next, says Mark.

“When Māori and Pasifika go for our first job interview, we tend to be a bit whakamā (ashamed or embarrassed). But a mentor will help you through that process and speak up for you. They’ll help you get to that next level when you’re not sure how to move forward.

“We want every MPTT trainee to be a leader and be confident enough to be out there inspiring other youngsters one day.”

Just in time

Once he got started in the construction industry, Mark found other mentors along the way.

One of those people was Gil Davies, who worked as a project manager at Hawkins. He taught Mark another important key to success – showing up to work on time.

“He used to come around in the morning and wake us up for work. He’d pull us out of bed and take us to the job site because he believed in us. I hooked onto this guy because he could see what I was about. Trainees who commit to showing up to work on time will stand out and be noticed by the leaders,” says Mark.

“To succeed, you need the work ethic. If you’re not on that waka then you might as well not come. You’ve got to be there ready to work at 7am and not looking to finish work early – we leave at 4:30pm, no sooner.”

Mark Katterns inspiring the new group of trainees for 2019 inside the Te Noho Kotahitanga Marae at Unitec

Team effort

At age 19, Mark joined Hawkins as a carpenter and began to work his way up.

Marriage and starting a family added to his motivation to succeed, and the company soon recognised his hard work and supported him to take on site management roles.

He has since been involved in projects such as the award-winning Auckland Art Gallery, the Auckland War Memorial Museum atrium, and the $109 million redevelopment of Middlemore Hospital.

But even as a project director who isn’t ‘on the tools’, Mark prefers being on site to working at a computer.

“I love my job because I still get to have that contact with the tradies. Being on site is like being on a marae because it’s a big collection of people – a team working together to build something.”

Mark says what drives him now is a passion to be a mentor for the current generation of Māori and Pasifika tradies.

He helped spearhead a mentoring programme for Māori and Pasifika at Hawkins, which provides opportunities for career development and learning new skills.

“Once you’re hooked into a trade, we get you a mentor. That’s what I needed when I was young. At Hawkins, we call those mentors ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’.”

So far, Hawkins has taken on 78 Māori and Pasifika trainees. Of those, 45% are from the MPTT programme and 17% are women – a relatively high percentage in the traditionally male-dominated industry.

For Mark, the mentoring programme is a way to give back and pass on some of the opportunities he received when he got started in the trades.

“I didn’t get here because of myself,” says Mark. “If I didn’t have a mentor, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Supporting more Māori and Pasifika women into the trades – at an MPTT celebration event in July 2018

‘She’ll be fighting off job offers’

Most people want to be in demand in their career – but how do you get there? Mechanical engineering apprentice Toni Rhind is sure to be sought after once she’s certified, says her boss Eddie Green. But that doesn’t mean the road was easy. In fact, Toni tried several careers before finding the right fit, and had to make the tough call to leave a good job in order to get an apprenticeship.

Apprentice and young mum Toni Rhind will be “fighting off job offers” once she’s certified, reckons her boss.

Eddie Green, who oversees Toni’s work at Pacific Steel in Auckland, was impressed with Toni’s work ethic and motivation from the start.

“Toni’s a role model. Her schoolwork and block course is always up to date. She adds a lot of value to our business and she’s always been outstanding. If she wants help, she’ll put her hand up. Toni is definitely delivering all the time.”

He says Toni will be in high demand when she’s finished her apprenticeship.

“She’s going to have a lot of choices. Whether we hang on to her or not will remain to be seen, but she won’t have to worry about finding somewhere to work.”

Joining forces

Around a year ago, Pacific Steel was looking for a female apprentice to join its mostly male team. But with mechanical engineering traditionally being a male-dominated field, Eddie had difficulty finding the right person.

 

Toni working on machinery at Pacific Steel’s Wire Mill (left) and with her boss, Eddie Green (right).

“We’ve got a big diversity plan, and at that time I was tasked with finding us a female apprentice. But there was hardly anyone around,” says Eddie, who is maintenance superintendent at Pacific Steel’s wire mill and manages the company’s apprenticeship training scheme.

Eventually, Eddie found Toni through Competenz – a partner of MPTT – after she’d approached them looking for an apprenticeship.

“As soon as I met her and talked to her, I knew she was exactly what we’re looking for,” says Eddie. “To be honest, I couldn’t hire her quick enough – I just had to get her on board. And it’s worked out really well.

“She absolutely fit what we were looking for, not just with getting a woman into the trades, but also because of her motivation and her skillset.”

Engineering her success

After having her son at age 16, Toni began looking for a career. But it took a while to find the right fit.

She did the first year of a nursing degree, then switched to sports massage for a few years. She then became a personal trainer and fitness instructor but although it paid the bills, she knew it wasn’t what she wanted to do long-term.

Inspired by her handyman grandfather, Toni decided to look into mechanical engineering.

“I was already quite good with my hands and I liked having a go at fixing things. I knew I couldn’t work in an office.”

Support system

Toni (Ngāpuhi and Tainui) also qualified for an MPTT scholarship that offered financial and practical support.

MPTT trainees like Toni get more than just free course fees. They also get one-on-one mentoring and career advice, as well as help finding work and getting an apprenticeship.

Toni, 26, says this ongoing support was a major reason she chose to join the MPTT programme.

“I’ve noticed a lot of people that go through the pre-trades haven’t had much support going forward with their career. And something I felt really helped me is that I had very strong support from MPTT.”

Toni’s relationship with MPTT started when she was looking at learning a trade. It was then that she met Naomi Tito, MPTT relationship manager at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

“When I was looking into my course, Naomi told me about MPTT. She was very friendly and helpful, and gave me a lot of information about what support I could get and where I could continue training after I’d finished at MIT.”

Measurable progress

Toni found her first mechanical engineering job while still doing her pre-trades course at MIT.

With her sights set on getting certified, she asked her boss for an apprenticeship, but eventually had to look at other options.

“I had a job and I thought it would lead to an apprenticeship. But once I’d finished my pre-trades course, it didn’t really look like my boss was going to be able to offer me an apprenticeship. So I found an apprenticeship with another company.”

That company was Pacific Steel. Eddie says he was impressed by Toni’s drive to get certified, particularly because apprentices temporarily get paid less than other employees until they are qualified.

“To walk away from a pretty well-paying job and to take that leap, that couldn’t be easy,” says Eddie. “I did speak to her about the money and how she’d make ends meet but she had a real plan and it was a good plan. I liked how motivated she was and how keen she was to do it.”

Now a year into her three-year apprenticeship, Toni is loving her work.

“I enjoy being challenged all the time. When I go to work, there’s always something different to do each day. My job is to help maintain the machinery at Pacific Steel, like fixing breakdowns to get the production line going again. We do quite a bit of welding and fixing broken equipment.”

For Toni, changing careers was a way to open up her career options and give her more choices in life.

 

One of the things Toni loves about her job is the variety of tasks she gets to tackle — no two days are the same.

“It was about career opportunity. My long-term goal is to become a contractor. I’d like to be my own boss so I can choose my hours and what jobs I work on. Once I finish my apprenticeship, I’ll be looking to get more experience before eventually going out on my own.”

Formula for success

Many parents find it challenging to juggle work and family life. But for Toni, what made it possible was having the support of her whānau.

“I’ve got both my parents around to support me, and my sisters. So it was only when my son was sick or he had a school trip on that I’d try and take some time off work.”

Having support at work is also important to Toni, and she’s found her team at Pacific Steel provides this.

“I work with a supervisor and a number of workers, so there’s always support there. There’s always someone to talk to if you have any problems in the workplace.”

Although mechanical engineering is still a male-dominated field, Toni hasn’t come across difficulties as a woman in this trade.

“Where I’m working, they treat women just like they treat the men. I think sometimes men underestimate women’s ability to do physical jobs, but actually women can do all of those physical things too.”

Eddie is passionate about encouraging women to succeed in the trades, and says some lingering stereotypes are the only problem.

“I’ve been in engineering for around 39 years now, and what I find hard is people who have a job that needs doing and automatically go to one of the males. But why not stop and think and give that job to one of the women? Toni is equally as capable as any of the men we’ve got here now or have ever had.”

Toni encourages other women who are interested in the trades to follow their dreams, and to take advantage of all the help they can get from others along the way.

“Give it a go, and don’t be intimidated because you’ll have a lot of support behind you.”

Completing the circuit

At Māori and Pasifika Trades Training (MPTT) Auckland, our trainees don’t just get jobs — we help them become qualified tradespeople. As recently-qualified electrician Cruise Tito knows, completing your apprenticeship is well worth the hard work to get there. Here’s the story of how Cruise has set himself up for a lasting and rewarding career.

When Cruise Tito finished his apprenticeship in November last year, he was thrilled to celebrate the years of hard work he put into his qualification.

“Being the first of my siblings to get qualified, it was a big deal. We all went out to dinner to celebrate,” says Cruise.

The 22-year-old was part of MPTT Auckland’s first group of trainees back in 2015. Having now completed an apprenticeship through Skills and electrical contracting company Team Cabling, Cruise is officially an electrician.

Cruise Tito, qualified electrician
Qualified electrician and MPTT Alumni Cruise Tito completed his apprenticeship on November 2018.

Lightbulb moment

When Cruise finished high school, he knew he wanted to get a job that was hands-on, so it made sense to learn a trade.

“I like electronics and was motivated to get a good-paying job, so I decided to become an electrician.”

He completed a pre-trades course in electrical at Manukau Institute of Technology in 2015, with his fees paid for by the MPTT scholarship.

He was also coached by his MPTT navigator, to help ensure he knew what employers were looking for as he prepared for life on the job.

Sparking a legacy

MPTT Auckland has its roots in the Māori Affairs Trade Training Scheme, which saw thousands of Māori gain trade qualifications between 1959 and the mid-1980s.

This created a generation of Māori leaders in the trades — a legacy that MPTT is working to continue by supporting people like Cruise right through their training.

As one of the first trainees to join the MPTT programme, Cruise (Ngāpuhi, Ngai Ta Manuhiri, Ngāti Whātua) is grateful for the help it has offered him throughout his journey to getting qualified.

“The scholarship was a massive help financially. MPTT also encouraged and supported us to do better, like helping us set five-year goals.”

“MPTT is like a family. It was really nice being part of a group of people that met up regularly. My navigator Awhina helped me out with my CV and I also attended a financial support workshop through Skills, which helped me and my household improve our budgeting.”

The first goal on Cruise’s list after finishing his pre-trades course was getting an apprenticeship.

He found this opportunity at Coll Electrical, where he worked for about three years. Cruise was able to work nationally and was sub-contracted to work in Wellington for six months.

“It was the first time I had moved out of home and I was able to work on my first commercial project end-to-end.”

Returning to Auckland, Cruise realised he needed more varied experience to get the career he wanted.

“We were mainly working on civil projects, and I wanted to move more towards commercial. So I decided to look for other opportunities and was able to get a job at Team Cabling.”

With help from his apprenticeship provider Skills, Cruise was able to carry his apprenticeship over to his new job.

Switched on to the trades

From the beginning, Cruise has loved that the electrical trade lets him work with his hands.

“The work is awesome. There’s heaps to learn, I get to do different things every day, and it’s hands-on, practical work.”

“I knew I didn’t want a desk job – not right now anyway. I’m an active, hands-on person, so I based my career around that. I was motivated to get qualified, as I saw it was the key to more opportunities.”

The biggest challenge for Cruise on the road to becoming qualified was getting motivated to study and complete the necessary assignments.

“Exams were really hard. I found it hard to study while working full-time and playing rugby. But at the same time, I really enjoyed getting paid to learn.

“My partner motivated me a lot. Seeing her develop in her career made me determined to keep up. She helped keep me on track — she actually put the whip on me,” he laughs.

Now that he’s a qualified electrician, Cruise is grateful to have plenty of opportunities and support to grow his career. He recommends trades training to anyone who enjoys hands-on, practical work.

“Take every opportunity you can. Get paid to learn and get qualified,” says Cruise.

On track for success

At just 18 years old, Ben Poutasi lost his father in a tragic car accident. As the eldest of six kids, he took on the role of providing for his family with a job at Burger King, before learning a trade by day and working at night. Now aged 20, Ben is an automotive apprentice with dreams of being his own boss.

For Ben Poutasi, learning a trade was about providing for his aiga (family).

After tragically losing his father shortly after finishing high school, Ben worked closing shifts at Burger King to help pay the bills.

Ben’s father had been a mechanic and a builder, and Ben decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps with his career.

“I thought I better get a trade under my belt, basically to help take care of my family.”

Since helping his mum provide for his five siblings was top of his priority list, Ben needed his training to lead him straight into paid work – something he says is a strength of learning a trade.

“With university you get a degree, but often no-one’s helping you get a job in that field you studied for. I see a lot of my friends with degrees just staying at home, playing on the games.

“Heaps of them end up working in something completely different to what they studied. I think getting a trade is better.”

Streets ahead

As an MPTT scholarship recipient, Ben not only had his course fees paid for, he had career coaching and help finding a job.

“When I found out I had the scholarship, I was still working at Burger King and I was going to try and find an apprenticeship and pay that off while working. I was going to skip the pre-trades course because I couldn’t afford it.”

Ben, who is Samoan, finished his Certificate in Automotive Engineering (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) in November 2017. With help from MPTT Navigator Travis Fenton, he was able to go straight into an apprenticeship at Rangitoto Motors.

“Travis told me Rangitoto Motors was looking for an apprentice – so I went there straight away, printed off my CV and gave it to the boss, and had an interview with him.”

Ben says Travis has been there with advice and support from the start.

“He’s helped me a lot. At first, I didn’t even know how to sign up for the scholarship or enrol for my course, so he helped me with that too. And finding an apprenticeship was pretty hard to do but, thanks to Travis, I found one.”

As an MPTT scholar, Ben also received $1000 to spend on tools when he got his apprenticeship. That helped him buy a tool box as well as some equipment he needs for the job.

He also earned a scholarship from MITO to cover the first year of his apprenticeship fees.

Track to success

Mike Atkinson, owner of Rangitoto Motors, says Ben is excelling as an apprentice because of his willingness to work hard and try new things.

“He’s probably one of the better ones (apprentices) I’ve ever come across,” says Mike. “He has no fear. It doesn’t matter how big or small the job, he’s just keen to do it and he’s keen to learn. He’s definitely a strong part of our team now.”

Mike says Ben’s work ethic, responsibility and maturity beyond his years mean he’ll go far in the automotive industry.

“I see potential for Ben. He could potentially take over from me one day – that’s the angle I’m pushing him towards.”

Ben with his employer Mike Atkinson, owner of Rangitoto Motors
Ben’s boss Mike Atkinson (left) says the industry is crying out for more young people like Ben.

Mike says he’s really pleased to see the work MPTT is doing to help build a qualified workforce in the automotive industry.

“We’re crying out for more skilled young people; it’s so hard to hire good mechanics these days. Anyone who’s helping to address that shortage has my full support.”

Family vehicle

Ben lives with his mum and siblings in their Mangere home and he says their support has been a huge help.

“We’re a close family. My mum’s been there for me the whole way.”

Ben says he’s been encouraging his siblings to consider learning a trade.

“I talk to my sister about it quite a bit. She wants to go to MIT in the future.”

One reason Ben recommends a career in the trades is for the variety of work – he never gets bored.

“It’s great not having to do the same thing over and over again. Every day is different. There are lots of different vehicles for a start, especially with new electric vehicles coming out.”

As a tradie, Ben loves that he gets to use his hands and move around as he works.

“I’m glad I’m not stuck in an office – I’d get bored sitting there all day!”

Staying the course

Completing a pre-trades course at MIT helped Ben prepare for the demands of an automotive workshop.

“They showed us the different parts of a vehicle, which was useful because I knew things like what brake pads were when I started. It was good to have that background knowledge.”

Since starting his apprenticeship, Ben has enjoyed building his skills on the job.

“The practical work is cool. I’ve learned a lot of stuff and it hasn’t even been a year yet.”

As an apprentice, Ben has the added challenge of theory work and assessments to complete.

“The paperwork can be pretty hard, but I’ll get there. All the answers are there so I just need to learn them.”

As an MPTT trainee, Ben will continue to get support right through his training – including advice and mentoring from his MPTT Navigator Travis, to help Ben accelerate in his career.

Thinking of learning a trade? Find out more about MPTT’s scholarships and see if you qualify.

Apprentice earns national building award

Robert Piutau
Tradespeople do a lot of great work, but it’s not every day they get national recognition for their skills. After delaying his building career for years to be a stay-at-home dad, former MPTT trainee Robert Piutau was stoked – and a little surprised – to win second place in the New Zealand Certified Builders Apprenticeship Challenge this month.
Find out more about Robert’s journey into the trades and how he earned his impressive placing at the awards.

When Robert Piutau found out he’d won second place in a national building competition, it took a few moments for the good news to sink in. “I was at the awards dinner and I heard my name and saw it on the screen – but it didn’t hit me straight away. Then someone behind me said ‘Hey, that’s you’. I think I was in shock that I got a placing.”

Robert competed against 18 other finalists in the New Zealand Certified Builders (NZCB) Apprentice Challenge, held over three days in Rotorua in May. Judges scored the finalists in various areas, including a presentation, an interview, and written material such as their portfolio, cover letter and CV. They also built a catapult as part of a separate promotion with Mitre 10.

“I didn’t think I’d place in the top three,” says Robert, 33. “Especially with the calibre of guys there.” For claiming a podium finish, Robert won $2500 worth of tools, plus took home the Mitre 10 bench tools he used to make the catapult.

“We kind of felt like superstars down there for the way we were treated. It was such an awesome opportunity and I’ve never had that kind of experience before.

“I came away really motivated to persevere and continue my studies and apprenticeship, and then just go on to get qualified.”

Robert and the other apprentices showcased their skill and creativity by constructing a working catapult during the NZCB Apprentice Challenge. Photos courtesy of ITAB Auckland.

Hammer time

To secure his spot in the national competition, Robert first competed – and came out on top – in a search for North Auckland’s best building apprentice.

Nineteen of the area’s most skilled apprentices went head-to-head for eight hours at the regional challenge in April, turning construction plans into a detailed children’s play castle. Each playhouse included a turret and working drawbridge, and was judged by a panel of experts on workmanship, measuring, cutting and assembly.

Robert came away with the highest overall score – but he says it wasn’t an easy challenge.

“At first I was surprised that I won. I had a few challenges on the day and made a couple of major mistakes, but I knew I had to keep going.

“I started differently to the other guys and built it the other way around – starting with the cladding and then doing the frames last. My family came and I pretty much had nothing to show for the whole day. Then in the last half hour I put everything up, and it was all go from there.”

The Mangere resident, who is in the second year of his apprenticeship at ABS Builders, had the added challenge of leading a father-son building event the night before at Kelston Girls College – an initiative of his church, Breakthrough Church.

“I was focused on that and it didn’t finish until around midnight. So it was all go for me on the Saturday of the competition – I only had a couple of hours to go through the construction plans.

“What helped was knowing how well the event had gone the night before. Seeing those kids and their fathers come together and do a project, and just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces – that was priceless.”

Robert Piutau at the Nationals
“I didn’t think I’d place in the top three, especially with the calibre of guys there.”

Robert Piutau at the Nationals
Robert was stoked to be able to keep the tools provided by Mitre 10 Trade for the catapult challenge.

Family man

Although he was introduced to building by his grandfather at a young age, it took a while for Robert to realise he wanted a career in the trades.

The father of four – daughters Edenn (12) and Ayvah (9), and sons Abraham (6) and Joel (7 months) – had been a self-employed courier driver before staying at home to care for his eldest son for more than four years.

“It was a great experience being home with my son. I can honestly say it was the hardest job I’ve done.”

It was during this time that Robert realised he wanted to be a builder, thanks to a visit from his uncle.

“While I was a stay-at-home dad, I gave my uncle a hand renovating my parents’ house. That was when I realised, ‘Man, I’m actually pretty good at this’ – and I liked it too.

“I started helping family out, changing door locks and doing all the odd jobs they couldn’t do. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d just pick it up and try to figure it out. That’s how it all started for me.”

During the years that Robert took on the bulk of the parenting, his wife Meli was studying to be a nurse. She qualified last year as a registered nurse, allowing Robert to spend more time focusing on his own career.

“We both left our studies late because we weren’t sure what we wanted to do,” says Robert. “But now we’re on the right track. My wife’s found work with Plunket, and I’m finishing my apprenticeship.”

In training

With Robert’s parents being from Tonga – his mum Melenaite from Folaha and his dad Manako from Kolofo’ou – he qualified for an MPTT scholarship. This covered his fees as well as ongoing coaching and support.

“It was a huge help because at the time my wife was still studying. We were getting by week to week without much money, so the scholarship really helped me.

“If I hadn’t got the scholarship, I don’t know if I’d have been able to study. It was a huge opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it.”

Robert completed his pre-trades course at Unitec while working as a builder on Thursdays and Fridays – experience that eventually helped him land an apprenticeship.

“The first year I decided to become a chippy, I had no idea about the terminology. I didn’t know what was what. That one-year course really prepared me for life on the job. It was pretty full-on for me to work as well as study, but we needed the money for our family.”

Seeing the growing need for skilled tradespeople, Robert knew he wanted to get qualified as soon as possible.

“I saw the benefits to doing an apprenticeship and being to learn from someone who’s experienced. I was motivated and pretty much had an apprenticeship lined up by the time I finished the year of study.”

Now that he’s well on his way to being qualified, Robert also likes to let others know about the benefits of joining MPTT.

“I introduced the scholarship to my little brother-in-law. I’d like to inspire other Māori and Pasifika to get into the trades.”

What you can learn from Robert
  • Give things a go – even if you don’t think you’ll succeed. Robert was surprised to win both his regional and national awards – but even though he hadn’t expected to win, that didn’t stop him from getting involved. While you’re gaining experience, it’s normal to worry you’re not skilled enough or not as good as other people. So instead of waiting until you feel ready, aim high and give it your best shot. No matter what, it’ll be great experience – and like Robert, you might be surprised how well you do.

Fueling change in the automotive industry

Think you’re not strong enough to succeed in the trades, or worried about being the only woman in a team of guys? Elaine Pereira has been there. But as she discovered, physical strength isn’t as important as you might think, and neither is gender. With her positive attitude and solid work ethic, the 28-year-old has found work she loves, scored a valuable apprenticeship, and is accelerating towards a rewarding career in the automotive industry.

When Elaine Pereira’s car started playing up, her desire to fix it herself ignited a passion for the automotive trade. But despite her enthusiasm, she had doubts about how well she’d fit in as a tradie.

“My first perception of doing automotive was, oh, it’s a male-dominated trade, I’m not sure how it’s going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to be welcome. But everyone’s been really helpful, really kind and approachable. All my doubts that I had in the beginning have been pointless.”

As the only woman apprentice in her workshop at Trucks and Trailers in Wiri, Auckland, she’s found she sometimes takes a different approach to certain tasks, while still getting the same result.

“I may not be physically as strong as some other people, but there’s often other ways to get the job done just as well.

“I’ve found I sometimes do things slightly differently from the males in my workshop. I do ask them for advice, but I make it work for me to suit my comfort zone and my strength.

“For example, installing a transmission takes a lot of upper body strength, which men often have more of. For me, I’ve found I can use blocks of wood so I don’t have to hold the transmission up the whole time. It’s little things like that – finding an easier way to do exactly the same job, without putting yourself out.”

Trucks and Trailers service manager Kelly Henshaw would like to see more women like Elaine making their mark on the industry.

“It’s good to have a woman apprentice in a largely male-dominated industry. It’s not very common unfortunately, but certainly something we encourage. We do notice women are often quite detail-oriented, which is an asset in the trades.”

Unlocking her calling

With a background in the customer service industry, Elaine didn’t always picture herself as a tradie.

“Automotive wasn’t something I thought I would do growing up, but I’ve always been good with my hands. At home, if something breaks, I’m the one who fixes it. So it was something I was interested in; I just hadn’t applied it to a trade yet.

“I do have the personality to do customer service work, but I hit a point where I realised I wasn’t getting anything out of it – it was just a paying-the-bills job. I realised I’d learned everything I could in that industry and I wanted to do something new.”

At that point, she had been working at call centres for around 10 years – but when her family’s car started playing up, she had an epiphany.

“I’d just had a baby and I was on maternity leave. My car wasn’t running well and I was like, ‘I wish I could just get out there and fix it’. And that’s when it dawned on me that I can get out and fix it, and I’m going to learn how.”

Determined to get going, she started looking at automotive courses and enrolled at Unitec – and being Māori (Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa and Ngāpuhi), she qualified for an MPTT scholarship.

Speeding into employment

Elaine, who is married with children aged two and four, started working full-time straight after her pre-trades course.

She found the job with Trucks and Trailers thanks to Got a Trade? Got it Made! SpeedMeet– an event where employers and potential employees can meet each other for short, speed-dating-style interviews.

Mark Lawrence, acting regional manager for industry training organisation MITO, helped introduce Elaine to her employer and says it was clear she was a great candidate for the role.

“She got the job off her own back at the speed meet. She’s motivated and there’s nothing stopping her – she’s got a really good attitude and is a really positive person.”

After meeting some of the managers from Trucks and Trailers, Elaine was invited to come into their workshop to have a look around – and that day they offered her the job.

“I feel like I’ve scored my dream job to be honest,” says Elaine, who also loves that the workshop is just around the corner from her home. “Some days are a bit more challenging than others, but I’m really enjoying myself. My ability to expand my knowledge in this trade has been amazing, and I get to explore my passion for the industry.”

Keys to success

Elaine’s supervisor Kelly says she is a great asset to the team.

“One of her core strengths that really stands out is her positive, bubbly personality and she gets on really well with the team.”

Elaine’s reliability and enthusiasm for the job also make her a valuable employee, says Kelly.

“She’s a family woman with commitments at home, which gives her a different level of responsibility and work ethic. We do find often apprentices who are a bit older and have family to think about have more maturity and commitment to their work, because being able to provide for their family is important to them.”

Elaine was able to negotiate working hours that allow her to drop her youngest son off at daycare in the mornings, which Kelly says the organisation was happy to allow.

“We’re always looking to be flexible where it makes sense to do so. It does need to work for the employer and the rest of the team as well.”

Smooth transmission

Although she loves her job, Elaine knows it’s not enough if she wants to get qualified and enjoy a lasting trades career. That’s why she let her employer know from the start that she wanted an apprenticeship.

“After all of this I don’t want to be doing something and not get qualified at the end. I want to be doing something that will be with me forever.”

Having recently signed the contract for her apprenticeship, Elaine says the key to success was being open with her employer about her goals.

“I think my age and having worked full time previously helped me open those lines of communication.

“If I could tell my 18-year-old self what I know now, I would say just be honest, because having a good and open relationship with your employer can improve your work-life balance. I wish I’d had that advice when I was 18 and looking for a job.”

She says the best time to bring up your career goals or any issues that might impact your work is when you first meet your potential employer.

“Being honest from the start is important. Whether or not you think someone’s going to want to hear it, you’ve got to be honest.”

Employer Spotlight: Trucks and Trailers

Trucks and Trailers is a dealership for Mercedez-Benz Trucks and Vans and Freightliner Trucks. With three locations across the North Island, the organisation employs more than 90 staff including 15 apprentices. MITO’s Mark Lawrence says it’s a great working environment that’s suitable for trainees developing their automotive skills. “Trucks and Trailers are always looking for young people to join their team, and it’s a supportive environment to learn in.”

 

What you can learn from Elaine
  • Let your boss know about anything that might impact your work – even if you’re worried they won’t like it. Whether it’s an issue with your kids or your health, it’s best to be honest about it. Even though it can seem easier to just say nothing, if your boss doesn’t know what’s going on they won’t be able to help. Remember, part of your employer’s job is to support you to do the best work you can, so it’s best to let them know about any problems as soon as you can.

Mums in the trades

Having mouths to feed is a powerful motivator to work hard and build a successful career. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we share the stories of three mums building their trades careers, and we look at why hiring parents can be good for business.

The trades industry offers great opportunities for mothers who want a stable and rewarding career.

Mums with trades skills can expect to earn a good living to support their families. There’s a range of well-paid roles available in the growing industry, and statistics show women in the trades get paid the same as men for equal work.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we look at why employers value parents as part of a trades team, and share the experiences of mums who are working in the industry.

Added motivation

When it comes to needing a great reason to get to work in the morning, having children to support is hard to beat.

Sarah Peraua

Sarah Peraua, who has a seven-year-old son and one-month-old twin boys, says her children help her to be even more driven to succeed in her career.

“It definitely gives me motivation to work harder for my children and my family. I want to set a good example for my kids.”

Sarah’s employer Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build, says hiring parents has advantages for businesses.

“From an employer’s point of view, I find that people who have children are more reliable. Obviously they’ve got to support their children, so their motivation to get to work can be a lot greater than that of people who don’t have children.”

Camille McKewin, mother to six-year-old Madelin, was driven to start her own business after training in the trades. This allowed her to have more control over her schedule and spend more time with her daughter.

Camille McKewen

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Being flexible

Of course, having children does come with challenges for parents in the trades.

A common issue is that trades jobs can have earlier starting times than the traditional 9am-5pm schedule.

Elaine Pereira, who is married with children aged two and four, needed to negotiate her working hours to allow for dropping her son at daycare in the mornings.

“They let me know the hours they needed me to work, and I told them I needed to talk to my family because a 7.30am start wasn’t going to work for me. My kid’s daycare doesn’t open until 8am, so that’s the earliest I can drop him off, which means I won’t be at work until 8.30.”

Her employer Trucks and Trailers, where Elaine is now working as an apprentice, offered her a job with a slightly later start than usual.

“They just asked whether I’d be able to come in early on the odd occasion if they needed me. And I’m happy to be flexible if they do need me to come in, especially because they’ve been flexible with me. It’s worked out well.”

Amon says all employment relationships require a bit of give and take.

“At the end of the day, that’s life, and you can’t expect a parent with a sick child to come to work. Employers have to be a bit flexible around parenting. I would say a large majority of employers are parents themselves, so they probably have empathy for that.”

The key to managing absent employees comes down to being organised, says Amon, who is a parent of twins.

“As long as the business has strategies to cope with things like sickness or absenteeism due to kids, it’s something that can be managed.

“The rest of the team might have to stay a bit later to meet our deadlines if someone’s away, but everyone understands that. My team is pretty good with picking up the slack if someone has to stay home with a sick child – and their co-workers who are parents do the same thing for them if they happen to be sick, so it’s really just a team thing.”

Finding support

For many mums, whānau support to help care for their children is key to balancing work and family life.

Sarah says her parents have been there to look after her eldest son when she’s needed to work.

“My mum picks up my son after she finishes work so I can continue working until five o’clock. She sometimes takes him to morning school care as well. And if I wanted to work on Saturdays, my parents would both look after him.”

Elaine shares household responsibilities with her husband to ensure she has time for her work and apprenticeship.

“When I need to do my studies he’ll look after the kids, which is fantastic. With cooking dinner, doing the washing and cleaning the house, we share that work.”

Open communication

Elaine says communicating openly with your employer is especially important for parents.

“Just being open when you’re applying for a job, telling them straight-up what things you can and can’t do, and having that open line of communication with my employer really helped me.

“They know that if my kids are sick and I can’t get anyone else to come pick them up, then I’ll have to leave, and they’re really good with that.”

Amon says with good communication, an employer can better plan around any constraints in the employee’s schedule.

“When I hire people I tell them that if they need to pick their child up at a certain time each day, let me know at the beginning so I can fit that into my programme. As long as I know about it, I can make sure I don’t book them to be working at those times.”

He adds that all employees require some flexibility whether they’re parents or not – from sick days to time off for a dentist appointment.

“For example, I’ve got guys here who are Jehovah’s Witnesses who have one day a week off. So I know they are a four-day worker, and I don’t try to take on work for a five-day worker. A lot of it comes down to organisation.”

The business case for hiring parents:

    • Reliable workers:

Parents can have more experience with meeting their obligations and taking their responsibilities seriously. This helps them to be reliable at work, too.

    • Committed employees:

Parents have mouths to feed, so they’ll be motivated to work hard and have stable employment, says Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build. “From a business perspective, I prefer to employ parents because of that motivation and drive.”

    • Provide support:

By hiring parents, you’ll be helping them support their children, says Amon. “From a moral standpoint, I’d like parents to have a job to be able to support their families.”

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.”