Apprentice award winners show engineering’s future is bright

The future of mechanical engineering in Aotearoa is bright with two shining examples of the industry’s talent taking top honours at recent nationwide competitions.

Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ) is the country’s premier employer of apprentices in mechanical engineering and related trades: recently they celebrated excellence in their trades with the presentation of the 2022 Apprentice of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards.

Hawke’s Bay-based fabrication fourth-year learner, Tama Dunn (Ngā Puhi, Te Arawa, Ngāti Kahungunu), took out the New Zealand Apprentice of the Year title. This award celebrates an ATNZ apprentice who demonstrates outstanding performance in their work, a great attitude, is proactive on the job and shows obvious pride and enjoyment in what they do – something Tama’s ATNZ Account Manager Ben Julian said he exhibits in abundance.

“Tama is really making a path for himself and was recognised as a leader early on in his apprenticeship. With his skills, strong work ethic, and excellent attitude, he will go on to do great things, but it could have been so different. He has overcome some pretty big adversity in his life, and in the early part of his apprenticeship – which he almost gave up on at one point. So, it’s very special to me that he won and to be a small part of that success. Ben said.

On his win, a humble Tama shared he wasn’t expecting to take out even the regional award – the precursor to the national award – but was stoked to have won both and taken away the $1,500 worth of tools from award sponsor NZ Safety Blackwoods.

With graduation from his apprenticeship in sight, Tama is already planning ahead and would one day like to launch his own contracting business to make a difference for rangatahi who might be heading down the wrong path. One he nearly took himself.

“I love being on the tools, and in five years’ time, I want to be a contractor, so I recruit some young fullas to work for me and run my own little crew, get them off the streets, get them out of trouble. I’d pick them up in the morning, make sure they get to work on time, have their tools, work the day, and take them home again.”

Tama is also a success story from the innovative collaboration between Hastings company Patton Engineering and Hastings Boys High School. Together, they have created a ‘real-life’ trades training and apprenticeships programme for high school students. It helps address skills shortages for Pattons and, for the best and brightest learners, leads to employment in an ATNZ apprenticeship. Read more here.

2022 was the fifth year of the annual Apprentice of the Year award for ATNZ, a not-for-profit group training organisation (GTO) that employs 400 engineering apprentices and places them with host companies around New Zealand, where they do their learning. ATNZ has also recently been awarded Private Training Organisation (PTE) status, an exciting step enabling them to provide their own apprenticeship programmes and training for the engineering, manufacturing, refrigeration, and air conditioning workforce.

The inaugural winner of the Rookie of the Year Award was Caleb Hokai. This exciting new accolade recognises a rising star who has completed the first year of their apprenticeship and is already exhibiting exceptional talent, tenacity, and skill in their chosen craft.

His ATNZ Account Manager Jo Brierly said 21-year-old Caleb’s potential was immediately spotted by host company Red Stag Timber in Rotorua where the fitting and machining apprentice is already producing work at a tradesman level despite being only in the second year of his training.

“Caleb is just so focused, trustworthy, and mature beyond his years, plus he’s a natural people leader and is well respected – even at his relatively young age. He can absolutely do anything he wants to in the future. The calibre of entrants was amazing, but Caleb totally deserved it!” Jo said.

Caleb originally planned to go to university to study mechanical engineering after a gap year following high school but was attracted by the benefits of an apprenticeship – earning while he learned with no student loan. He highly values education and will continue after his training is complete.

“I want to keep learning and get more qualifications under me. I don’t just want to be a tradesman. I want to go even further, do my advanced trade, health and safety training, management courses: the sort of stuff so I can go on to be a coordinator or manage a department or look after other apprentices.”

With so much talent on the ATNZ books, CEO Tim Wilson said the competition would always be fierce, but the standard of the finalists and eventual winners shone through.

“I am deeply proud of every one of our apprentices who put themselves forward for these awards – it’s not an easy thing to do. Each of the nominees demonstrated, in their own way, the attributes and talents of future industry leaders and a clear passion for their trade. It was humbling to hear their stories, and the judges had a torrid time separating our finalists.”

These sentiments were echoed by Hanga-Aro-Rau Industry Manager Matt Gough, who was invited to be on the judging panel for both awards.

“It was a truly robust process, with judging taking place over two days – and we needed it because the talent level was so high. We started with four finalists for each award, but ultimately, we felt that both winners had something special that just set them apart. There is no doubt they are the future leaders of our trade,” Matt said.


Pictured left image: 
Rookie of the Year Caleb Hokai (left) with ATNZ CEO Tim Wilson (centre) and award sponsor Hobeca Tools Group Marketing Manager Paul Heagerty (right).

Pictured right image: 
ATNZ CEO Tim Wilson with Apprentice of the Year Tama Dunn.