Jack Adkins was in Year 12 at Auckland’s Rangitoto College when he made the decision to leave school. “I wasn’t that interested in staying and wanted to look for a job,” Jack says. Not sure of his next move he spoke with the school’s career advisor.
“We talked about engineering or mechanics which I was interested in except I didn’t want to work with vehicles. The advisor wanted to know what else I enjoyed, so I told them anything to do with the sea as I’ve virtually grown up on the water,” Jack says. “They suggested I look at the marine sector.”
Jack Adkins works on an outboard motor in the final year of his apprenticeship at Ovlov Marine
With the help of training provider New Zealand Marine and Composites Industry Training Organisation (now MAST Academy) and their MAST Launch it, School to Work programme, contact was made with leading Auckland marine company Ovlov Marine, and Jack began a six-month work placement at Ovlov, leading into the company’s apprenticeship programme.
Four years on and Jack is in the final stages of a Power Boat Repair and Service Technician Qualification which will see him classified as a marine technician by the end of the year. He feels his future with a formal qualification looks bright.
“I’m aiming to head overseas and work on super yachts or similar to gain international experience,” Jack explains. “Working successfully in the marine sector is a continuous learning process.”
Jack is grateful for the opportunity to train in-house with Ovlov. “Ovlov offered me a job and progression into a sector I wanted to explore. I’ve had the chance to broaden my horizons and see what’s out there. It’s been an awesome place to work.”
Stepping directly from school into the work environment hasn’t all been plain sailing, Jack explains. “Initially I had to get my head around workplace culture and the responsibility of meeting a customer’s expectations.”
He’s also had to combine a full-time job with completing the (about) 50 papers for the 231-credit programme. “I’ve learned how to fit study into my own time,” Jack says. Help has been available. “Whenever I’ve struggled to understand the course-work I’ve been able to ask the MAST Academy or Ovlov’s staff trainer about it.”
The last four years has been a lot more work than he imagined but a satisfying experience. “The promise of a great future with a recognised qualification behind my name that I can keep for ever has been a real driver for me,” Jack says.
Lachlan Trembath, Director at Ovlov Marine, feels a commitment to trade training is essential for New Zealand industry if specialist trades want to secure a bright future. Ovlov has seven marine technician apprentices in formal training working at its Westhaven and Pine Harbour branches, including Jack Adkins. “We’ve been investing in providing in-house training for a long time as it continues to be difficult to hire the qualified and skilled people we need,” Lachlan says.
Ovlov works with training provider MAST Academy to provide training programmes and supervision for staff, and receives government funding per apprentice. The company also provides factory-based brand training outside of the apprenticeship scheme.
Lachlan explains it’s important for employers like him to know that there is financial and practical support available for companies to take on apprentices in some areas. “The support is an incentive as it can be difficult for employers to make the leap to take on apprentices and we’ve had great support from MAST.”
Ovlov’s apprentices come from a variety of places and sectors. At present they include a mix of junior and experienced senior technicians including a qualified mechanic. “Some have joined through contacts in the industry and others, like Jack, come via MAST. Everyone at Ovlov will learn more about how New Zealand boats are built and powered and gain general knowledge of the New Zealand marine industry.”
“MAST works directly with schools to help spot promising students and transition them into the industry,” Lachlan says. This direct link with schools is vital as the number of students choosing the trades in New Zealand has declined over many years. “University doesn’t fit with everyone and young people need to be aware of other options.”
The majority of apprentices study the Level 4 New Zealand Certificate in Marine Systems, a diesel-based qualification, or Power Boat Systems Servicing and Repair, working to gain the technician qualification, which covers outboard motors. The Marine Systems apprenticeship takes around four years to complete and combines online learning modules with on-the-job practical training and experience in the workshop.
Lachlan recognises that there are challenges to running a solely in-house training programme.
“Hiring apprentices isn’t the same as taking on experienced staff who will immediately provide financial gains for the business and be able to handle a heavier workload,” he explains. Training and passing on expertise takes up the time of senior staff. “An apprentice can be a big help on the job, but will often need to be accompanied by an experienced technician. We also charge the customer less for the apprentice’s time.”
Recent changes in government funding for apprentices in some areas of industry has impacted Ovlov and means the company needs to cover more staff training costs. Covid has also increased staff sick-leave, although Lachlan is thankful that the marine industry fared better than many at the height of the pandemic. “People were unable to travel so they stayed home and spent money on their boats instead which was good for us.”
The retention of staff trained in-house can also be an issue. Qualified staff need to stay for around two years to maintain the level of skilled workers in the company and make the process worthwhile. “Gone are the days where people stayed 10 years in a job,” Lachlan says. “When staff leave us we want them to have enjoyed a positive experience and have gained recognised, formal qualifications and skills to share with the sector.”
Overall, Lachlan remains very positive about in-house staff training and upskilling. It’s a satisfying process to help someone succeed. “It’s been fabulous seeing the progress Jack has made and we’d be delighted to see him back with us one day and he knows that. Another of our junior technicians in his second year and will be off to work for us in Fiji soon which is also a great achievement.”