Ben Bersma knows he was lucky to get a carpentry apprenticeship in the middle of the global financial crisis three years ago. But he has also worked hard to earn it.

Mr Bersma, 24, was one of just 4978 building industry apprentices who was still on the books at the end of last year, 3000 fewer than three years earlier.

Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) head Ruma Karaitiana says numbers have finally begun to lift again to an expected 5300 by the end of this year, but he still has 1200 young people on a waiting list.

Mr Bersma got his lucky break because his parents knew Auckland builder Rob Gardien.


"Even so, it took me seven months doing a bit of work around the site and getting to familiarise myself with things [to get the apprenticeship]," he says. He had been in Britain on his OE, playing rugby and doing some building work for a construction company owned by former All Black Zinzan Brooke.

"I met Rob on one of the first weekends after I came back," he says.

"A month later I saw him again. I had been travelling around New Zealand. He said, 'What are you doing next weekend?' I said, 'Nothing.' He said, 'Bring your tool bag along."'

His basic hand tools cost him $1500. Since starting he has bought more power tools and reckons his kit has now cost him $4000 all-up.

But he was also lucky that Mr Gardien's two small businesses, Gardien Construction and Flashman, kept steady work through the recession because of a reputation built up over 27 years.

Mr Gardien has always had at least one apprentice and trains them well because they are part of that reputation.

"I don't see Ben as my apprentice," he says. "I see him as my leading hand and my foreman at some stage."

Mr Bersma got the chance to work in every aspect of the job - a chance he might not have got with a different boss.

"I spent three months digging footings before I went to England," he said. He quit. Friends in other companies still "struggle to get to the next level without the right experience".

The apprenticeship involves recording all your practical work as well as completing theory work. The BCITO offers help with the theory, but Mr Bersma coped by himself with help from Mr Gardien.

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Today: Industry training
Tomorrow: Second-chance education
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