When he was "a skinny-legged 17-year-old", Tony Lafferty left school to become a building apprentice.
Now, he's construction manager at Landmark Homes Taupō. In the intervening 17 years, he's finished his apprenticeship, progressed to becoming a foreman running building sites and now he manages multiple building sites, earns a good salary and has just built and sold a spec home for a tidy sum. Has building been a good career for him? Yes, definitely.
It's all those opportunities that having a trade has offered Tony that he was keen to convey to year 11 students from Tauhara and Taupō-nui-a-Tia colleges recently when they visited a Landmark Homes building site as part of the Pathways Connect programme.
Pathways Connect is organised by Taupō Pathways, which connects young people, educators and employers. The workplace visits were intended to give students an understanding of employer expectations, workplace cultures and career pathways, see how what they learn at school is used in the workplace, help them make informed decisions about their future career paths and learn about the skills and qualifications they need to get their dream job.
Some 300 students had the opportunity to visit a variety of local employers and workplaces around Taupō, from social and community organisations, creative industries, services such as hairdressing and hospitality, to farming and primary industries, manufacturing, construction and infrastructure.
Students interested in trades such as building visited the site of six duplexes Landmark Homes is constructing on the Nga Roto Estate near Taupō Airport where Tony and Landmark Homes' sales and marketing co-ordinator Paige Nairn showed them around and Tony talked about his own experiences of going into a trade.
Tony told 10 Taupō-nui-a-Tia College students from the engineering and hard materials classes that on his first day as a building apprentice he found himself at a building site in Rainbow Drive tying steel footings in -3C cold.
"I thought 'what have I done?'. But I've never looked back, I've had a great career. Once you're in the building industry you never want to leave. I really enjoy it.
"There's so many avenues to take," Tony said, listing plumbers, electricians, carpenters, gibstoppers, plasterers, painters drain layers, air-conditioning technicians, concrete placers and excavators as just some of the many building-related trades available. An apprenticeship usually takes three to four years depending on how hard the person works, particularly on the theory side.
Tony says the soft skills employers want in their staff are enthusiasm, punctuality, initiative and willingness to learn.
"Showing a bit of enthusiasm, asking questions, being present on the job and focusing on what you're doing, not standing there on your phone and Snapchatting every two minutes.
"There's a bit of a shortage of young keen apprentices, with the emphasis on keen. It's all well and good getting a pay cheque at the end of the week, but actually being interested and engaged is probably where the shortage is. I know some builders who go through two or three labourers a year because they don't show up or something like that."
Student Myles Sprague, 16, said he came along to have a look at the building trades because he was interested in hands-on learning and had had some experience building.
"My mate's dad's a builder so I've done a little bit of work and we did a kitchen in our house and that type of stuff has always interested me."
Sue Maclean, of Taupo Pathways Connect, says the idea of Pathways Connect, which first ran in 2019, is to expose year 11 students to local job opportunities and to start engaging them in potential career pathways.
She said the idea of getting the students out to talk to employers in year 11 was because then in year 12 they could target their subject choices towards career areas they were interested in.
"It's also getting them to be better equipped to make informed choices about their career paths and learning about the skills and qualifications that they need to ultimately get that job."
Sue says the feedback from students and employers about the Pathways visits has been positive.
"I think for the kids they're realising that this is what they really need to start thinking about."
She said the 20-plus employers involved in Pathways Connect were also keen to see the youth who were coming through because they were potential future employees and showcasing the career paths in their business.
"They're very, very good about giving the youth the opportunities to have a go. I think we're very lucky in Taupō."