Young apprentice thinks outside the square

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Twenty-two year old Dunedin carpentry apprentice Blair Stuart says it came as a surprise to win the Southern regional competition in October last year, let alone win third place in the inaugural national competition.

Blair competed against nine other regional winners from throughout the country at the national event in Wellington last November, where 25-year-old Central North Island apprentice Rhys Forsyth was announced winner, and 25-year-old Wellington region apprentice Matt Sharp was runner-up.

Blair says he was encouraged by one of his bosses at Naylor Love to enter the Apprentice of the Year competition, a joint initiative led by principal sponsor Carters with the support of the Registered Master Builders Federation (RMBF), the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) and the Department of Building and Housing (DBH).
“Ewan Oats, one of my bosses, was keen for me to enter the competition, so initially I did it on his wishes, but as soon as I entered I knew it was a good decision,” Blair says.

Entering the competition involved completing an entry form detailing some of his best work, as well as providing references from his employer and BCITO training advisor.
Blair was then interviewed by a panel of judges made up of representatives from the RMBF, Carters and BCITO, followed by a visit to the site Blair was working on at the time.

Carters representative on the Southern regional judging panel Maurice Blair says Blair displayed top quality workmanship, enthusiasm and a real ambition to succeed in the industry.
“I was pretty nervous about the interview process, but they asked all the right questions, so it all just fell into place. I was stoked to get that far in the regional competition,” Blair says. “And then to get third in the nationals was incredible.”

Blair received a great deal of positive feedback after his regional win, and admits his family, friends and employer were all rapt with his success.
“My parents came to the regional event and were ecstatic with the win. My girlfriend Alannah Compton, best friend Jonny Flockton and another Naylor Love boss Blair McGill also came to the regional competition, and joined me for the nationals in Wellington,” Blair says. “After it was announced, we all had a pretty big night celebrating.”

Blair admits that “heaps of good things have happened” since the competition, and is especially pleased about being given more responsibility at work.
“I’ve been asked to do jobs that are usually given to fully qualified carpenters. It’s good to be able to make decisions on my own, and really take some initiative,” he says.
“I’m committed to staying in the industry, and really enjoy what I do,” Blair says. “Winning this prestigious title is great for my CV, and I’m sure future employers will take it into consideration.”

Impressed with array of prizes

Blair was impressed with the array of prizes he received for his placings in the regional and national competitions, which included an Outward Bound course worth $2500, a $2000 study grant, an iPod Nano, Standards New Zealand educational material, education kits from DBH, merchandise from Carters and BCITO, and a wide range of tools.
“Outward Bound is definitely the best prize of them all. I’ve had a number of friends and family members who have gone on the course who have said it’s the best thing they’ve ever done,” Blair says.

“I’m really looking forward to going on the course with the other Apprentice of the Year national finalists in August, he says.
“The tools I’ve used so far have also been very useful.”

Blair initially didn’t know what he wanted to do after leaving school, but decided to begin a career in the construction industry after working as a labourer for his uncle, who is also a builder.
“I didn’t know anything at all about the building industry, but I was hooked as soon as I gave it a go,” he says. “I love the outdoors and thinking for myself, but the best part is seeing the end result — a structure you’ve contributed to. It makes it all worth it.”

While Blair is still working in commercial building at Naylor Love in Dunedin, he hopes to, one day, run a small residential building business of his own.
“But I want to travel the world first and see how different cultures take to the building industry and how they do things differently to New Zealanders.”

Blair says he would recommend a carpentry apprenticeship to anyone who loves being outside and working with a good bunch of people.
“You have to work hard, think outside the square and be really committed,” he says. “If you’ve got those attributes, you can’t go wrong with building.”

And for apprentices entering this year’s Apprentice of the Year competition? “Don’t hold back. If you’ve got the ability and skills, put them to good use. Just go for it — give it all you’ve got.”

Entry forms for the 2008 Apprentice of the Year competition will be available early in April, and can be downloaded from www.masterbuilder.org.nz and www.bcito.org.nz.