Kurt Douglas’s story is truly inspirational. How a young man, going nowhere, turned his life around. He took on a trade and then scaled the heights. Literally. The trade was scaffolding. And now Kurt has progressed from being ‘on the tools’ to senior management.
The story, initially, was a classic one of a young man having no direction. “At school, I didn’t apply myself. No effort was put into academic stuff even though I was ok at chemistry and physics.”
He left school with a couple of NCEA credits and then drifted for about five years, “just kicking around with my mates and on a benefit. There was a fair bit of abuse – alcohol, drugs, cigarettes.”
Kurt knew he had to get away from that lifestyle. “My partner could see it. I got the ultimatum. “Stay here and be a drop kick or we do something.” They moved away from Kaitaia to Whangarei. “She’s probably the reason why I’m not still in Kaitaia.”
To continue receiving a benefit Kurt had to do an LSV (Limited Service Volunteers) boot camp. “It was like Army basic training – routine and discipline but with cotton wool. Quite PC and motivational. ” The course took six weeks. No alcohol, no drugs and even the supply of cigarettes was limited.
“I came out feeling very inspired. It really did change my mindset.” And he gave up the drink. “I’m an all or nothing person.”
At a Mayoral lunch to celebrate the end of the course, Kurt met Chris Douglas from Northland Scaffolding and they had a brief chat.
At the same time, by chance, a pre-trade course in scaffolding came up, aimed at recruiting workers for the oil refinery. Kurt enjoyed it and was keen for some work experience. So, he rang Chris who took him on one day a week. Kurt says, “You have to get your foot in the door and prove your worth.”
Then the company needed some workers for a Saturday job. Kurt was up for it but said they had to pay him. “So, I did a couple of weekends and started making noises about full-time employment.” Chris says jokingly, “he pestered us so much I had to give him a job!”
“Basically, Chris took me on as a labourer,” Kurt says. “Then, as my skills got better, he applied for me to do the elementary block course at Tai Poutini Polytechnic. Free-standing scaffolding, nothing too technical.”
That took around six months to complete with quite a fast turnaround before Kurt went into his intermediate course, which took three to four months. “Then I went straight into my advanced ticket, which is the technical one.”
Maths was relevant at this stage, with calculations for counter-weights and fulcrum points, live loads and dead loads. “By then at least I had half an idea as to what I was doing.”
What Kurt is shy about admitting is that he finished the course with both an advanced ticket and the award for national Scaffolding Trainee of the Year. “It’s been the rise and rise of Kurt,” says Chris. “We can take a little bit of ownership as we’ve supported him all the way! But self-motivation is the key.”
Since Kurt qualified, Skills and SARNZ (Scaffold, Access and Rigging NZ) have teamed up to establish a proper apprenticeship, with scaffolding now officially recognised as a trade.
Soon after qualifying, Chris offered Kurt the position of Operations Supervisor. He was off the tools and into management. “He’s great at seeing an end goal. He puts a lot of passion and drive into his work, always trying to learn, always asking questions. His accelerated growth is extremely positive. It’s a cool story – going from nothing, to what he’s achieved in a short period of time. ”
Chris says Kurt works hard on himself, trying to understand people’s differences. “Sometimes he just wants to give them a kick up the bum and get stuck in. Like he does. But not everyone’s motivated that way.”
Looking to the future Kurt says scaffold design really interests me, learning what an engineer requires. And Chris is supporting him by introducing him to software design packages.
As much as he enjoys management, Kurt really liked his time on the tools. His advice to anyone thinking of doing an apprenticeship, “If you’re a physical, fit sort of person you’ll enjoy it. It’s a hard case bunch of guys.”
With the new qualification, he thinks scaffolding is going to become a popular trade. “When something gets completed to a high standard, I like that. You can stand back and look at it like it’s a piece of art. But it’s always a team effort. You can never take full credit for it. The brotherhood of the boys is very strong. Everyone looks out for each other.”