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.

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