NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Builders’ Business is a column by builders for builders. Its objective is to provide a forum, particularly for small business operators, in which to share knowledge, experience, tips and ideas
Q: Have you taken on any apprentices lately? What else can be done to encourage more people to become apprentice builders?
Firm: Tom Wilson Builders Limited
Interviewee: Tom Wilson
I took on a new apprentice in early 2020. He had been a hammer hand already for a few years and is older, so he’s already capable of doing a lot of proper building work. He is the first apprentice I’ve taken on since I started the business back in 2009. Since then, I’ve hired qualified and experienced builders, rather than apprentices.
Taking on an apprentice is a commitment from the employer, to ensure the apprentice can be exposed to all the different types of building work needed to qualify. So, the apprentice subsidy scheme has been a good incentive for employers because it assists with the work time lost to the learning process in the early years. Back when I did my apprenticeship, we had to pay all the fees and books costs, so making training free is a great bonus for the apprentice too. It’s exactly what the country needs to help address the tradie shortage.
2021 is already booked up with work and there seems to be more past that too, so I will take on another apprentice in early 2021. I just need to find the right person – a younger person this time, I think, to balance out all the old guys I have on staff now!
Firm: A1 Home Wairarapa
Interviewee: Paul Southey
Role: Owner operator
Staff: 11 (office staff)
At A1 Homes, we don’t employ tradespeople directly – we have 150 subbies, most of whom we’ve been using for over ten years. I know all of our subbies have taken advantage of the government’s apprentice subsidy scheme – including carpenters, painters, plasterers, and the concrete guys.
There is lots of confidence out there now, because there is lots of work coming in. We’ve been in business for 16 years and 2021 is looking like it will be our busiest year ever. As a result, I’ve noticed young builders who have gone out on their own, three to four years after becoming qualified, who are taking on apprentices too, which is great.
The government’s response has been the best thing ever for our industry and everyone is really grateful, both for the subsidy and the opportunity to support all these young people. I know the apprentices themselves have found the free training so valuable. These are young people who can see a way forward.
I have noticed the homeowners are now aware and more interested in the growth in apprentices too – they ask who the apprentices are and they check in with them to say hi and see what they are doing.
Before I was a builder, I used to be a secondary school teacher and I think to encourage more people to take up trades, we have to reach the kids early, in primary school. Make sure they can still get access to the old ‘manual’ classes, but let them know it’s not just woodwork and metalwork, there are so many paths in construction, like design for example. Teachers need to know that trades are a great option for a lot of their students – you can travel the world on a trade now, if worldwide travel comes back, of course!
Firm: Dunlop Builder Limited
Interviewee: Bryce Dunlop
Role: Managing Director
Staff shortage is our biggest challenge for 2021 – it has been since I was an apprentice 30 years ago. We’ve just taken on two apprentices – a man and a woman – and both have been to university. More and more of our apprentices have been to uni – they either don’t love the course they’ve taken, or they graduate and soon realise they don’t want to be in an office all day. In our experience, by the time they’re qualified builders, they couldn’t be happier.
While I appreciate the government’s apprentice wage subsidy scheme for employers, it has not affected our decisions – we would have taken on two apprentices anyway.
Typically, we take on two every year. It’s a company decision we’ve made to support the industry. We recognise there is a shortage and we believe we should play our part to train up the new generation of an industry that’s given us so much.
In terms of how else to attract more young people to the trades, from what I have seen, BCITO has been getting some traction with encouraging school leavers to consider trades. The government’s free training is helping, but I think we need to show more young people when they’re in school, what it means to work in a trade. It’s tricky, because all the teachers have been to university, so they can’t tell students what it’s like being a tradie. What we’ve done as a company, is go to the schools ourselves, and have the years 11, 12 and 13 come out on site visits. This gives them a sense of what it’s like on a building site and what the career might look like.
Firm: Kuriger Builders
Interviewee: Conrad Kuriger
We started two new apprentices last year. One is straight out of school and the other is in his mid-30s and came from a transport and infrastructure background. The government’s apprenticeship subsidy didn’t influence our decision to take these guys on; we’ve trained more than 40 apprentices over the past 40 years.
Most of our apprentices aren’t straight out of school, they often come from previous careers. We’ve had former police officers, ice cream store owners, all sorts of backgrounds. I have noticed a theme that they come from employment where they feel constrained and they come to building to be creative.
It isn’t an easy transition for people, though. It’s a physical job and this shouldn’t be under-estimated, but the outdoor lifestyle and sense of achievement outweigh this ten-fold. Nevertheless, I tell my apprentices it will take two years to develop a builder’s physique, and until then, it will be tiring. Once a builder gets to 55 years old, it can be tough to still be in such a physical job.
In terms of how to encourage more apprentices, I think we need to get in front of school students more. School is an academic place and teachers are usually academic people, so they don’t necessarily appreciate what a career in building can offer. Building also requires good academic levels with today’s technology, regulatory and compliance systems.
When I left school 49 years ago, my teacher rang my parents to ask why I wasn’t going to university, yet here I am all these years later with a career I’ve loved in an industry that I’ve loved and has given me so much. We need to show that the trades offer a really good life to a lot of school leavers, and that it isn’t a second-best option.
To an extent, I think as a society, with such a focus on what is high risk, we have dissuaded people from taking on physical jobs, but there are various avenues that open up when a young person takes up building. Those who find the physical side too demanding often shift into the compliance and regulatory side of things, which also offers a good career-path. People just need to know it is an option.
Lastly, I know that some office professions get paid more. While builders can also make very good money, that isn’t the main point – the real value comes from doing something you love. If you get to the end of your life and you’ve loved doing what you’re doing, I would say that is living your best life. If young people have an opportunity to understand this, trades will be a very attractive option for them.