Too many firms neglecting training

There is plenty of work, the construction sector is looking strong and the medium-term outlook is good. There are plenty of drivers to underpin the positive outlook, such as a buoyant commercial sector, a housing shortage and leaky building issue that is largely yet to be addressed. And as I look upon the Auckland skyline I see dozens of cranes.

However, there is only a small percentage of these buildings that are filled with finishing trades workers – air conditioning installers, plumbers, fire contractors and of course electricians, the best of all trades.

At some point in the not too distant future sub trades will flood into them, all frantically attempting to keep up with challenging programmes and deadlines. The issue I can’t quite get my head around is, where are all these people going to come from?

Certainly not from immigration. Everyone is busy, no one has spare capacity, there are record numbers of advertisements for experienced tradies, and on top of that, we are recovering from an extended downturn induced by a GFC that saw many businesses turn away from taking on apprentices.


It looks to me like we are building for a perfect storm, and for those who have over-committed, well, they may just find their ship sinking, or at least taking on water.

Before we all throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat, I believe there may be a solution for businesses in the construction sector. Why not train someone, why not take on an apprentice?

I know, it’s challenging and you “don’t have time to spend training someone” in the way that, back in the distant past, someone trained you.

Personally, I have always lived by the mantra “Necessity is the mother of all invention”.
In the summer of 1940 Britain had its back to the wall. The all-powerful enemy was attacking.

The country was vastly outnumbered in both planes and trained personnel, people who could fly, repair the damaged aircraft and of course build new planes and weapons.

While I may only have a cursory understanding of history, I’m pretty sure Churchill didn’t put advertisements in the paper looking for skilled pilots and aircraft engineers, hoping to poach them from the Germans.

Nor did he admit defeat. In a few short years, the country had geared up its armaments factories, built a new air force and turned the tide against its enemies.

And it didn’t do it with experienced trained personnel. Women with little experience worked in, and ran the factories.

Young men, still in their teenage years fought off the enemy over the skies of Britain and ran bombing raids over Germany, and when those battered aircraft returned it was young engineers that repaired them so they might fight another day. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

So really, is it so hard to train an apprentice to fit off an electrical switchboard, braze a copper pipe, bend some sheet metal or fit a door into a jamb and all of the other skills required?

I guess the answer is, it just takes some time, generally around three and a half years and, some commitment.

At last count, our business has 38 apprentices in training. We have always been trainers, even in the downtimes. What annoys me the most are those businesses that show no commitment to the industry, never train and yet are happy to cherry-pick from those who do train.

As for the young generation being different, yes, they are. Their world is different, the pace of information they are subjected to is light years ahead of when I was a young apprentice.

I am never ceased to be amazed by what these young people can achieve when given the opportunity. All it takes is commitment, providing the right opportunity, the right environment and the benefit of our experience.

I see them enter the business on day one, a bit like a possum in the headlights, then I see them grow in confidence, and in just a few short years I see them as outstanding young trades-people. I get the most pride of all from seeing them qualified and training yet another generation.

As a footnote to parents, did you know algorithms and artificial intelligence in computing will see far fewer jobs, in accounting, law and many other industries? So, before you encourage your sons and daughters into a lifetime of student debt, not to mention the debt incurred to the country, why not consider a trade?

They will earn while they learn, most likely never be out of work and just consider the future business opportunities available to them.

So I say forget a double degree in accounting and law. Consider plumbing along with a marketing degree, or an electrical apprenticeship and a business degree, because let’s face it, electrical is the best trade.

• Dave Burt is director of the company Team Cabling based on the North Shore with branches in Hamilton and Christchurch.

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