Whanganui builder Jack Aplin is celebrating an opportunity to boost his expertise with a recent scholarship award.
Aplin is one of two experienced builders in the region to win the Freemasons' Willson Lewis Scholarship which is a joint initiative between Manawatū Kilwinning Lodge, UCOL, and Registered Master Builders.
He returned to live in his home town earlier this year after working as a site manager in Melbourne.
"My partner and I made the decision to come back just before borders started closing due to Covid and it turned out to be great timing," he said.
"I went to Melbourne because I really wanted to see where construction is headed and I got some great experience but I'm glad to be home now."
Aplin soon found employment with Castlecliff-based company Gemini Pepper Construction Ltd owned by Brendan Lawrence, who was happy to take on an experienced site manager.
Construction work soon ground to a halt due to the level 4 lockdown restrictions and Lawrence said things are now "flat out" as the business catches up with a backlog of work while new contracts are coming in.
"We have 13 staff including our administrator and everyone is really busy.
"It has been a challenging year but we are making great headway now."
Aplin plans to use his scholarship to study the NZ Diploma in Construction, focusing on quantity surveying which has been one of his career aspirations.
"We haven't worked out how I'm going to fit the study in yet but it seems like there is some flexibility.
"My aim is to get really good at pricing. I've got the other areas - health and safety and carpentry - covered, so learning more about quantity surveying will assist me in my role. Having a qualification behind me will give me more confidence."
Lawrence said he is happy to work around Aplin's study requirements and it will benefit the company.
"The qualification will mean that Jack can do advanced project management and that will free me up as well," he said.
Both men encourage young people to train for the industry as they say there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming years.
Aplin said he is grateful that he is able to build a career in the trade as it didn't seem like an option when he was at school.
"There was a push for everyone to attend university when I was at Whanganui High School and although I don't mind studying for qualifications I never wanted an academic career."
Lawrence said he it was the same for him and although he is pleased that there is a renewed focus on trades training he hopes there won't be too much pressure to fast-track the learning.
"It takes time to learn to work to a high standard but it is rewarding work and well worth it."
The other recipient of the 2020 Willson Lewis Scholarship is Palmerston North site foreman Danny Reilly.
UCOL executive dean of Engineering and Applied Technology Daniel Wilby said he is proud that UCOL can provide the opportunity for Aplin and Wilby to progress their careers.
"Jack and Daniel both have very impressive resumes and have gained valuable experience working in big cities overseas. It's great to see them return to their roots."
Initial funds for the scholarships were bequeathed by Kilwinning Lodge members and builders Jim Willson and Sam Lewis while Malcolm Pettman set up the scholarships which have been awarded since 2015. The scholarships are also supported by the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) and Mitre 10.