Learning the basics at Tai Poutini

ALAN TITCHALL revisits a polytechnic dedicated to training basic skills for those looking for work in the civil construction and surface extraction industries, and explains, again, why it is deserving of your support.

Fred Tangi
Fred Tangi

AT THE TIME of writing Tai Poutini Polytechnic operates its Auckland school campus on a large piece of land on the southern edge of Holcim’s Bombay Quarry south of Auckland.

The polytech has campuses in Auckland, Invercargill, Greymouth and in the Waikato. The South Island schools deliver programmes with a mining strand as well as civil construction.

However, the Auckland school enjoys full student quotas for its courses and lead tutor, Tony Bellis, remains as dedicated to the Auckland school, its courses and succession of students as a teacher and mentor can get.

Since my visit to the school in December 2013, Tony’s enthusiasm has not faltered and he’s quick to tell me that the polytechnic teaches disciplines and skills (such as ‘wheel, tracks and rollers’) that would normally take a green labourer two to three years to learn out in the industry. Since our last visit, the course has been shortened from 30 weeks to 26 weeks (theory and practical) and there are now three intakes a year. The focus is still on ‘process’, Tony stresses.

“If you understand the process of a job; you understand how to do it correctly,” Tony iterates.

Daniel Carter
Daniel Carter

“There’s also a strong theory and health and safety element,” he adds.

“The total course provides the students with a good head start into an industry where time doesn’t allow such basic skills training.

“We estimate the course is worth two years of basic training on a worksite. Students get a good understanding of health and safety in preparation for huge changes coming into force next year for both workers and machinery – walk rails, ‘drop’ valves on hydraulics and ground level refueling, for instance.”

Students come from a variety of backgrounds and include some who are unemployed and those already employed but looking for a career change or experience in civil construction.

“A few years ago we had a student, Louise, who held down a fulltime job with South Auckland Mail starting in the evenings at 7.30pm to the early hours of the morning. She still managed to pass the course and had already sorted a job with Fulton Hogan before she left. She’s a STMS there now,” says Tony.

“These are the stories that make all of this count.”

Tony selects a few students on the current course to talk to and their stories are mixed and varied but all include praise for the course and its tutors.

Learning the practical side

Judith Walker
Judith Walker

The Auckland course has attracted qualified civil engineers in the past and doing the current course is Fred Tangi, while holding down a full time job as an engineer.

He’s keen to get a fuller understanding of the process behind contracting, says Tony Bellis. “Fred is only doing four hours in the morning, but he’s doing OK. He takes his assessment work home and he’s never been late getting them in.”

Fred did his engineering diploma at Unitech but says he always wanted to operate diggers and machinery.

“Now I have completed my engineering studies I thought I would add the practical side of things and become an engineer that knows both theory, the process and the practical side of things,” he says.

“It also gives me a better perspective and understanding of how my role plays its part in the bigger industry picture.

“Eventually I want to own my own contracting business and oversee my own projects from design to build.”

Fred adds that the course has been of tremendous value to him. “We are taught by people like Tony with many, many years of industry experience and this is something you can’t find in a book.”

Correcting old habits

Cory Sims on smoko fry-up.
Cory Sims on smoko fry-up.

Daniel Carter has previous industry experience with a roading and construction company in the Waikato and was raised around big machinery, as his father and grandfather were logging contractors. He also picked up his ‘wheel, tracks and rollers’ licences with a trucking company in Hamilton, and has a class four truck licence.

“The Tai Poutini programme is to upskill my machines’ skills. I picked up a lot of bad habits from being taught by different people at different jobs over the years,” he says.

Like many of the students he is already looking for work with a major contractor before the course finishes, and hopes to pick up work near his home town in the Waikato.

A chance to work outside

Judith Walker left her office job as a team leader to study the basic course with a mind to getting employment outside, working machines.

“I have always been fascinated with machinery. Around 10 years ago I was a forklift driver and loved it.

“Then I spent 15 years in an office and it got to a point where you are on auto-pilot doing the job,” she says.

“The course so far has been awesome and I have learnt so much over the past eight weeks. The tutors go beyond just teaching the course and provide you with a lot of their working experiences which is so valuable.”

If you are after workers who have learnt basic skills and have a ‘working’ attitude and an appreciation of health and safety on site, contact the school on 0800 800 411.

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