Training for the future

In Features, April 20228 MinutesBy Gavin MyersMay 26, 2022

Mills-Tui is one of many manufacturers to embrace vocational training. The Rotoruabased trailer-builder currently has three apprentices on its staff, all of whom have promising futures.

You’re never too old.’ ‘Age is just a number.’ ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ True, true, and completely false. When it comes to learning the ins and outs of a new trade, you’re never too old or too young to learn. Just ask Sherwin Sioson, Jason Andrews and Madyzin Rogers over at Mills- Tui.

At 22 years old, Jason and Madyzin are the young bucks, ready and eager to chart the path of their respective futures in a trade they’re clearly enthusiastic about. And at nearly double their age – 43 – Sherwin’s proving it’s never too late to enhance one’s knowledge and skillset. All come from vastly different backgrounds and are part of a desperately needed pool of tradespeople entering the transport industry and learning on the job.

Jason sets a piece of metal in the press.

Mills-Tui managing director Dean Purves explains why the current lack of fully qualified tradespeople has been a massive issue, not only for Mills-Tui but for all trades.

“We’ve talked to the other bodybuilders around town, and they’re doing the same thing. There’s such a shortage of tradesmen, and transport engineering is a specific niche where you can’t necessarily apply other engineering skills.

“Years ago, when Mills-Tui was a big company, there were a lot of apprentices coming through. Then we went through a period in the 1990s and 2000s where, like many engineering businesses, we didn’t take on apprentices because of the cost. Now, there’s the incentive to do that; the government’s support makes a huge difference because apprentices aren’t productive for the first 12 months. I think it’ll slowly come right, and this is where we start.”

In 2019, Madyzin was the first to begin a heavy fabrication apprenticeship with Mills-Tui. Sherwin, who’s doing his auto electrician qualification, started his training shortly after. Both had already been working with the company and took the opportunity to further their professional development. Jason joined in 2021, also doing heavy fabrication, and Dean says the company is in the process of hiring a fourth apprentice, with the aim of taking on one a year.

“We want to train the guys from the ground up. We found that many of the people coming through from the 2000s, especially, might have had practical experience, but there weren’t many tradequalified people. We need to have guys that are fully qualified,” Dean says.

As apprentices, neither Madyzin nor Sherwin are short on hands-on experience. Madyzin left school in 2016 to join Mills-Tui. “I wanted to be a truck driver, but my grandparents said no way. So, I found a way to work in the industry. When it came to doing the apprenticeship, I saw the opportunity and I took it. I’ve always liked building things and standing back going. ‘Yeah, I did that’,” Madyzin says.

Sherwin’s path to his apprenticeship was a colourful one. Born in the Philippines, he graduated as an air-conditioning technician. After he graduated, he went to Saudi Arabia, where he worked as an air-conditioning technician. From there, he spent some time in Sudan before moving to New Zealand and joining the Mills-Tui team. “The electrical side of it is all the same, but I’ve had to learn additional aspects like health and safety. But I’ve learnt a lot. It’s been exciting and challenging,” he says.

Part of being an auto electrician for Sherwin involves plumbing the trailer.

After leaving school in 2017, Jason dipped his toes into engineering as well as trades such as building, bricklaying, sawmilling. “It was always engineering,” he says. “I like knowing I helped build something.”

Under the guidance of operations manager Todd Picken (who was unfortunately off work with Covid-19 when we did the interviews), the apprentices have to follow the curriculum set by their relevant industry training organisations, which is roughly 50% theory and 50% practical. (These are MITO for Sherwin and Competenz for Madyzin and Jason.)

An assessor does a quarterly check in to track their progress and, once a year, the apprentices complete a three-week block course, where they demonstrate all the knowledge learnt over the year in a project. It should all take three to four years to complete, depending on experience gained and progression through the unit standards.

All three agree that sitting down and doing the coursework after a long day’s work in the shop is one of the most challenging parts of the programme. However, as Dean predicts, tapping into that inner motivation will help down the line.

Madyzin tidies up some welds

“When I finished my apprenticeship, I was told, ‘Right, now you can go learn something’,” he says. “And that was right. You learn so much more actually doing the work and realising how it all fits in.”

Naturally, the shop floor is not necessarily where the journey ends. “Those who move into the office from the floor, like our engineering manager Jeff Miller, are hugely valuable because they know how stuff gets built and understand how things go together. You can always teach them how to draw and use the software.”

No pressure for Madyzin, Sherwin and Jason, then – especially with iconic names like Ian Patchell and Graham Kelly having spent their formative years with Mills-Tui.

“We know they might not stay here, and hopefully some do – but if we don’t help put them into the industry, the whole industry is going to suffer. Who knows, one of them might come back and run the business,” Dean says.