Liam Collis – From ‘Sparky School’ to Tradie Tools

To be an excellent electrical tradie, it’s important to know more than just the tools of the trade. You also need to be a good communicator. That’s how Liam Collis sees it.

Liam, who has been an electrical apprentice at HLS Limited in Auckland since October last year, says it’s really important to be able to get on well with others – as often you can be on a site where there are a number of different trades, all keen to get their part of the job ticked off.

“It’s important is to try and build a relationship with them,” says Liam. “It makes things a lot easier when you’re in and out of different work sites and so on. Even if it is just having a couple of beers together after a hard day on site. Taking some time to get to know them rather than butting heads.”

Third time lucky

Liam, who is 23 and of Ngati Raukawa descent, took a roundabout route to get to the electrical trade. In his final year at high school, he started to lose interest so, at the beginning of Year 13, he stepped out of school and gave the building trade a go.

“That wasn’t for me so then I worked at Noel Leeming for three years or so as an installation specialist,” says Liam. “But that wasn’t going anywhere either. So, I decided to look at pursuing a trade. I had family and friends that were in the electrical industry and I heard nothing but good things. So, I went to sparky school.”

It was at ‘sparky school’, or Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), that Liam met a tutor who would be instrumental in helping kick off his electrical apprenticeship and help get him where he is today. The tutor, Jacob Blackwell, effectively took Liam under his wing.

“He became a bit of a mentor,” says Liam. “He took me on unpaid work experience, to little jobs he was doing here and there – which was super beneficial to me and gave me an idea of what to expect. And he inspired me, gave me tips and different little things to expect – like what to look for and how to hold myself on the job. Things like that.”

Tips for the trades Liam Collissquare

As far as what Liam is proud of, he says it’s the simple things, such as getting the acknowledgement from the boss that you’re doing well, and leaving a site knowing you have done a great job.

“Make sure you leave a worksite proud of the work you have done,” he advises other potential apprentices. “There are a lot of cowboys out there and a lot of dodgy work. So be proud of your work. After all, it is your reputation. Some people get a big head and are assh*les to everyone else. Try not to be that guy.”

He still has a way to go on his apprenticeship, but as far as Liam is concerned, he’s in it for the long haul.

“I still have a lot to learn – which is probably an understatement!” says Liam. “But I am just keen to learn. If you’re at the finish line and making a lot of money, that’s awesome. But learning, in my opinion, makes work enjoyable. And I’m learning every day.”

Sainila Tagi – Electrical Apprentice on Track for the Future

Look ahead 10 years from now and, if Sainila Tagi has his way, he and three of his brothers will be running a full-service family-owned construction company.

With one brother in the building industry, another in plumbing, a third a qualified architect and Sainila on electrical, he says they’ll have all the bases covered to get a family business up and running.

“We are just at the start of it all,” says Sainila, who is two years into his electrical apprenticeship with Team Cabling Ltd. “My brother who is a builder is an exam off being qualified, the brother in plumbing is a year off as well. I have just over a year left to get my ticket. So yes, this family business is something we want to work towards.”

Entering electrical

Having worked for his father’s stone masonry business for some years, Sainila knew he wanted a change when the stone work began taking a toll on his body. He had helped his brother out on a building site and looked at his other brother’s plumbing business – but realised that neither of those was the field for him.

So, he signed up for a Unitec electrical pre-trade course and, within weeks, he was hooked.

“In my first few weeks, I just got engaged and loved it,” says Sainila. “Just learning about these formulas and how electricity functions and things, I found it very interesting. And so, from that point on, I locked my mind on the electrical field and knew that is what I wanted to do.”

Back to School

But, though Sainila loved the electrical pre-trade course, he admits he was initially concerned about going back to study.

“For me, I didn’t come out of school and go into tertiary study,” he says. “I went straight into work. So, to jump back into study was a bit of a gamble for me. I was wondering, would I do well? But then I really enjoyed what I was doing.”

There was one thing that he did find challenging though – speaking up and admitting when he didn’t know the answer in class or needed further explanation.

“Absolutely. If I was stuck on something, I would try and keep it to myself and then google the answer later. But, when I did open up, the tutors really were there to help you learn and encouraged you to ask the questions you needed to ask.”

The lure of electrical

In terms of on-the-job training, Sainila believes Team Cabling has been brilliant at allowing him to be exposed to a variety of commercial and domestic work. He says they move apprentices around to ensure they are always learning, which is something he really appreciates.

“For me, it is really an amazing trade,” says Sainila. “Because you are learning about something you can’t physically see. When you look at a live conductor, you can’t see the electricity. You need to understand the different laws and, from that, you’ll be able to understand how electricity flows.”

With electricity though also comes big responsibility – for both the individual and the Team Cabling business.

“With plumbing, you can blow a pipe and get water all over you,” says Sainila. “But if you cut into a live conductor, that could cause a bang or a fire – so there is a lot of responsibility that comes with this trade. And I learnt that safety is a big thing for Team Cabling. They are always reminding us about safety and I didn’t realise the stress they put on safety on site. But now I see why. You always need to be aware of yourself and those around you.”

Jump right in

As for others looking at getting into the electrical trade, Sainila says “just jump in and find out. I thought maybe I’ll try this, I’ll try electrical – and something just clicked.”

Rody Wiltenburg – Sometimes all you need is a change in direction

There’s a bit of a difference between dairy farming and being an electrician. But sometimes in life you just have to change direction.

That’s what Rody Wiltenburg found when he was 22, after five years working on a dairy farm. “I was about to become a manager but there just didn’t seem proper reward for all the effort you were putting in.”

So Rody joined an electrical company, French Electrical, on a trial basis. “At the end of three weeks, sitting down on a Friday night, my boss Chris French asked me what I wanted to do. Bugger off or take an apprenticeship?”

It wasn’t a hard decision. Rody could tell Chris liked apprentices and there was a really good team atmosphere in the company. He liked the working and earning environment too – gaining practical knowledge at the same time as learning the theory and getting paid.

There’s a lot to learn. “You definitely get the safety message early on.” Rody says when you start out you’re running lots of cable and you’re not really sure of what you’re doing. But the tradesmen above keep a very good eye on the apprentices. “You’re not going to get a big switchboard to play around with on the first day. They warn you what’s hazardous and what not to do”. His team has played a huge part in his success as an apprentice. “You can basically call anyone in the company and ask questions and they’ll help you. It’s about having the right tools and the right knowledge to check everything is ok before you do anything.”

Ask Rody what he likes best about being an electrician and he says the variation. “It’s not just the same old thing every day. You can go to five to six places and have to pick at problems to find out what’s wrong. It’s rewarding when you sort it out, you get a sense of accomplishment.”

“We did a bloody big house out at Whitford once, putting up a huge crystal chandelier. Took about three days. It hung from the ceiling past one floor right down to the next. That was cool. You sat back at the end of it and went, far out!”

On another occasion, Rody found himself three stories up, on the roof of McDonald’s on Quay Street in Auckland. “Being blown around in harness while putting up Santa and his reindeer was a bit on the edge!” Rody says with cherry pickers and boom lifts, you soon become acclimatised to heights. And about the physical side of the job, he says, “You don’t have to be a fitness bunny. But it helps if you’re a little bit leaner for getting into tight situations!”

Now, at the end of three years, Rody is waiting on the results of his final exam to become qualified as a general electrician. He’s already passed his Regulations exam – “The rules, what you can and can’t do, how close you can have a light fitting to a shower, the nitty gritty of it all.” But the theory side of things has been a bit more challenging.

“It’s about calculations more than anything. If you have a long run of cable, for example, you get volt drop. You have to work that sort of stuff out.” He says because he’s more of a practical person, he’s had to re-sit the Theory exam. And while he’s not amazing at maths, he’s “not shocking” either. He thinks this time he might have cracked it, because of the help he’s received.