Tautalafua Mata’afa completed his ATNZ engineering apprenticeship at Pacific Steel in Auckland, a company that manufactures 250,000 tonnes of steel each year for mesh, reinforcing products and galvanised wire.
Tau did his apprenticeship in maintenance engineering, a discipline that involves fixing and maintaining machinery so it is reliable on the production line. Maintenance engineers typically have a planned approach to maintenance, involving computerised maintenance systems and condition monitoring. The work requires a broad variety of engineering skills and knowledge.
“We deal with the production lines, so whenever something breaks down, we go out and try and fix it as fast as we can to keep the production rolling,” says Tau. “Sometimes I might be working on the block BGV where they roll the steel coils or other times I might be working on hydraulics or pneumatics. There’s variety in the job and it’s enjoyable but challenging.”
Tau’s day started off with a toolbox team meeting before beginning his start-up checks, crane and fork hoist checks. He said although he asked lots of questions, listening was very important, particularly at the start of a new job.
“There are a lot of situations where you might have an idea on how to do a particular job, but the best way for an apprentice to learn is to be a sponge and absorb all the information from those around you who are more experienced. Eventually you will know enough to apply it any way you want.”
Tau said the support of his ATNZ account manager Bevan was invaluable. “Bevan comes in to work once a month, gives me my training plan and lets me know if I’m on track. He’s great and pushes me to complete all of my tasks. The ATNZ team is very good to work with.”
The key to being a successful apprentice was simple, said Tau. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be reliable, turn up to work on time and be disciplined. Also take care to make sure you have all your safety gear on. Don’t be nervous or scared – everyone’s there to help you – take advantage of that and learn as much as you can.”
Over the past 13 years, more than 30 ATNZ apprentices have gone through Pacific Steel’s mill. It’s a career path that leads to a qualification and one Tau highly recommends.
“You don’t have to go to university – there are other learning pathways you can do like an apprenticeship. I love being an ATNZ apprentice, but I’m looking forward to qualifying and earning more too to help my family. That will be the best feeling.”
Tau has his eyes firmly on the future, hoping to start his own engineering business one day. And when that happens, he says he’ll definitely take on some apprentices.