Counting sausages

In Newsletter Editorial6 MinutesBy Dave McCoidAugust 5, 2022

I’ve decided it’s feel-good Friday, for me and anyone reading this who travelled a journey akin to mine… and I know there’s lots of you out there.

As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I listened to the news. There was an item on the inquiry into the building industry. One of the issues under the microscope was the lack of labour force. I have to say, I laughed out loud.

Through pure coincidence, I’ve had five separate insights into building apprenticeship journeys in the residential and light commercial building sector over the past decade. All five were in different parts of the country and all five have had more than one job on their journey.

The age range of the individuals affected spans school leavers to mid-40s. An incomplete summary of the varied trials experienced by those in the group would list religious coercion during work hours with veiled consequences the result of the consistent yet polite declines, no employment contracts, no payslips, no knowledge of holiday entitlements, no tolerance of absenteeism for Covid; rage, demeaning behaviour, and a lack of teaching time was also a common theme. There was also a court appearance in one case to recover monies illegally retained. And no trade qualification sign-off until the apprentice(s) quit, was a clear business strategy and cash-flow preserver on the part of one employer.

Based on the sample group’s geographical breadth and age range, I’m convinced the issues within the building industry’s HR department are endemic.

My ongoing question as an observer of all these experiences has been via the BCITO (Business and Construction Industry Training Organisation). I’m sure it would argue it is working within the mandate or guidelines it has. If that’s the case, why aren’t the representatives at least reporting anecdotal observations and conversations had with apprentices to whoever is in charge of the ‘fit and proper person’ stuff, relative to the employers? Who ensures the employers are training their charges in an appropriate manner? Apprenticeships surely aren’t just about being able to use native skillsets, they must also be about maturing good industry role models contributing to society’s next generation of half-decent people.

Make no mistake, road transport is certainly not without its fair share of recalcitrant participants. We will have to be extremely careful as we eventually mature driving into a full trade qualification and ensure that those placing trainees with trainers scope out the competence and suitability of the employer. This could be a real point of difference and a key component of the TruckSafe accreditation programme currently being promoted by the NTA.

We absolutely don’t want cadets, trainees and, eventually, apprentices finding placement with ‘ole mate who empties the sump of his white 6×4 tip truck into the stormwater grates along the backstreets of Auckland’s industrial estates on a Saturday evening.

And now for the irony in all this. There was little hint of a trade qualification when I started as a new entrant in the trucking industry. Yet I look back now at the men who took me under their wing and showed me the way of the industry, and all I can do is thank my stars I chose trucks. They taught me not just the skills, craft and the art of trucking but also respect, life skills, pecking order and etiquette. That held all the way to a senior management position in the company of a self-made individual. Many from all strata of the industry remain mentors for me to this day.

My experience compared with the modern examples I’ve witnessed in the building industry, makes an absolute mockery of the argument levelled at me by a WorkSafe representative some years ago, who inferred in a somewhat heated exchange that drivers – read ‘unqualified’ people – couldn’t be trusted to train the next generation.

No one is keener than I to see commercial-vehicle operation continue its journey to higher qualification status. However, the big caution is that when a vocation makes the jump to a formal qualification, it becomes a political pawn. If ‘pushing sausages through the machine’ means you’ll look good come the next election, it appears whose factory is churning those sausages out becomes irrelevant.

All I can say is thank you to every one of my early mentors from the bottom of my heart.

All the best

Dave McCoid
Editorial Director