Building a winning future


Carpentry apprentice Joe Dobson wanted to be “everything but a builder”, but the 22-year-old from Dunedin is on his way to reaching the top of his trade.


Joe beat nine other top apprentices from around the country in the Registered Master Builders Carters 2008 Apprentice of the Year competition in October when he was presented with his award at a ceremony in Wellington recently.


Joe qualified for the national finals by winning the Southern region’s top apprentice title in September. He hugely impressed the competition judges, who said he was a dedicated tradesperson who took a professional approach to his working relationships and adopted a “get stuck in” approach.


Joe was employed by Warren Baker Ltd for the first three years of his apprenticeship, but has been working for Stewart Construction since the start of 2008.


Winning the national Apprentice of the Year competition was “pretty unexpected” for him, and he says the award is a credit to those who have been influential in his career so far.


Joe, who grew up in Hunter, just south of Timaru, spent his secondary school years in Alexandra, where he attended Dunstan High School. In his final year at high school, he took a class in woodwork and design, but insists he never intended to get into the construction industry.


He even recalls saying he would “never be a maths teacher or a builder”!


After finishing school, Joe completed a stint in the army in Waiouru as an officer cadet, but moved to Dunedin six months later — a move he admits was “for a girl”.


“Just after I arrived in Dunedin I ran into a guy I used to coach rugby to, and he offered me a job as a bricklayer. Unfortunately, a short time later the business had to downsize and, because I was one of the last ones hired, I was the first to go.”


But before Joe finished bricklaying his boss introduced him to local builder Warren Baker, who offered him a labouring job. Clearly Joe showed some promise, as an offer to start an apprenticeship followed soon after.


Joe heard about the Apprentice of the Year competition last year through Mr Baker’s wife, Rachel, who thought he would be the perfect candidate for the award.
However, he felt he wasn’t ready last year, but promised to enter in the final year of his apprenticeship.


As Joe moved on to Stewart Construction early this year, he assumed Rachel had forgotten his promise to enter the competition — until he received an entry kit in the mail from her.


“I decided right from the start to present myself as I am. I knew the judges would have particular criteria they were looking for, but I wasn’t going to change the way I am,” Joe says. “I must have ticked one or two of their boxes.


“My family were really chuffed, as well as the people who had been instrumental in my career — obviously Warren and Rachel, as well as people like Kevin Dunbar, my foreman at Stewarts. They were all really rapt.”


It isn’t the first time Stewart Construction has had success in the Apprentice of the Year competition, with a former apprentice, Andrew Meiklejohn, winning the Southern region competition in 2006.


Winning the competition has “definitely opened up a few more doors”, Joe says. “It’s also inspired me and reminded me why I do what I do. I want to keep working to a high standard — I just really, really want to build!”


Joe says he was completely overwhelmed by the generosity of the sponsors — Carters, Registered Master Builders, the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) and the Department of Building and Housing (DBH).


“The prizes were just fantastic. I use the tools every day and I’m just planning how I’ll use the money for the study grants. At this stage, I’m looking at completing the Level 6 National Diploma in Construction Management at polytech.


“It will give me a good, solid grounding in the industry and really in-depth knowledge of the areas it covers, such as quantity surveying, business management, materials and architecture.”
As part of his national winner’s prize pack, Joe received a trip for two to an Australasian trade show worth more than $3500, and is also looking forward to the prospect of completing an Outward Bound course with the other national finalists next year.


When asked how he’ll handle the Outward Bound course, Joe replies: “I was in the army, remember? I’m sure there will be less yelling — and a lot fewer push-ups!”


Joe says he is also looking forward to seeing the other national finalists again. 


“Outward Bound will be such a highlight. It was awesome meeting all the finalists at the national event in Wellington. They’re really good guys, so it will be great to catch up with them all again next year.”


Joe also has some good advice for other apprentices entering the competition next year. “Just be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not, don’t compromise your values.”


Joe is looking forward to a prosperous future in the industry and plans to run his own residential building company one day. He would also like to travel with his skills, and is keen to do some aid work in developing countries in the future.


“You definitely can’t beat a trade. It encourages lateral thinking, problem-solving skills and really serves you well for life. Building is what you make it — you’ve just gotta get in there and enjoy yourself.”


Entries in the Registered Master Builders 2009 Apprentice of the Year, in association with Carters, will open in April next year. For further information, visit