Harrison West has been a plumbing apprentice for just over two years – but his boss, Dave Henderson from Quix Commercial, says he’s already a rockstar performer.

So much so, Harrison has already been promoted to Junior Foreman.

What’s particularly impressive about that is that Harrison is not only just halfway through his Plumbing Gasfitting and Drainlaying (PGD) apprenticeship, he’s also dyslexic – meaning he’s had more challenges than most when it comes to his apprenticeship.

Getting a helping hand

It all began when Harrison approached his boss about six months ago to let him know he was struggling with his course work.

“Harrison came to me and said ‘I’m having a bit of trouble at Tech’,” says Henderson. “And we said ‘look, that’s okay, there are a lot of people who have dyslexia and you are not alone’. We could see that Harrison was a motivated and driven young individual – we saw that in him from the start. It’s all about attitude not ability, and Harrison certainly fitted that bill.”

Once Dave and the team at Quix were made aware of Harrison’s dyslexia, they put him in touch with Garry McKenzie from training body Industry Connection for Excellence (ICE). Garry then steered Harrison to Skills for assistance. Now Harrison is about to begin his second gasfitting block course using a reader/writer for written examinations and has been enrolled in literacy tuition that will help him with course assessments.

“It’s great that the help is available,” says Harrison. “Skills organised for me to have an indicator test for dyslexia, and then I was able to access the literacy class It was all pretty responsive.”

Living with dyslexia

In Harrison’s own words, he struggled with school for a number of years as a child, until he was finally diagnosed with dyslexia.

“When I was about 6 or 7, I struggled a bit with my reading and then spelling as well as I got older,” says Harrison. “When I began at Quix Commercial, I sat exams like everyone else. The plumbing was the easiest part but I realised I needed more help with gasfitting because the wording is more technical. I felt like I really struggled with that and fell behind.”

Advice for employers

According to Dave, though Harrison might find certain written elements of his training challenging, in other areas, such as his verbal communication and people skills, he excels. This, he believes, is an important thing for employers to remember – that everyone is different and even though they may find one area challenging in the workplace, they can be stronger in other areas.

“So if they do ask for help, or as their employer you see they need it, do go and seek it,” says Henderson. “Because there are some great resources they may not even know about. Or they may just need some mentoring to get through it.”

The support available

Part of the role of Skills is not just providing support to the apprentice but also to the employer.

Margi Eade from Skills’ Vocational Literacy Team says it is very much a collaborative approach: “All parties are in regular communication – the account manager, the training provider, the employer, the Skills Literacy Team and any providers of extra tuition, such as Literacy Aotearoa.

“The Literacy Team provides support to employers through information on how they can best support employees with dyslexia. We designed a booklet too, Dyslexia in the Workplace, which gives employers useful strategies; so by giving dyslexic employees the right support, you can truly help them thrive and succeed.”

This is certainly the case for Harrison, says Margi, who calls him a real success story. She says that by showing employers the skills dyslexic employees have to offer and how they can support them, they have the ability to grow employees who will be a wonderful asset to the business.

Onwards and upwards

As for Harrison, dyslexia or no dyslexia, he has big plans.

“I now know there are resources there, which is great,” says Harrison. “I want to own my own company one day, and my goal for the next five years is to become a projects manager and run multiple jobs. It is great to know that the help is available to me.”

He also has some simple advice for others who may have a learning challenge and feel a bit daunted at starting a new career or putting their hand up for help.

“Just ask someone,” he says. “Don’t think that you are on your own. And don’t be scared or worry what others think. When you have a learning disability, you feel like you are put in a category, but don’t worry about that. You may be in that category to them, but you may be phenomenally better than them at something they are rubbish at. Everyone has their advantages and disadvantages – that’s life.”