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Catch him if you can . . . Master Painter Darryn Stewart is so busy it's ``mad'', he says. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

Tradespeople in North Otago are in hot demand.

Oamaru builders, plasterers, blocklayers, painters, paperhangers and upholsterers are so sought-after that customers are having to wait months to secure their services.

Those spoken to by the Oamaru Mail said there had been a shortage of personnel for the past two years and they were struggling to find or train newcomers.

“All the trades are under a lot of pressure,” master builder Roger Gilchrist said.

“Solid plastering is probably one of the worst, closely followed by blocklayers.”

Roger Gilchrist Building Services is one of the main providers of building apprenticeships in the district. Mr Gilchrist has four trainees at the moment and has had up to six at times.

But it was hard to find suitable candidates and to retain qualified ones. It took a lot of work and considerable cost to train an apprentice, he said.

One of the most difficult aspects was their tendency to leave once they had finished their apprenticeship.

While he wanted to give young people a chance in life, their expectations of the workforce could be unrealistically high.

“It’s a bit of a lucky dip.

“We’ll keep plugging away. Every now and again you get a good one who stays on.”

Oamaru master builder Shaun Cunningham also found prospective employees had a sense of entitlement.

“They all have high expectations of what they should earn.

“You can pay them a training wage, but you get what you pay for.”

A young man phoned him a couple of weeks ago to demand a job interview. Mr Cunningham said he was appalled by the attitude.

Job seekers should bear in mind that it cost nothing to be polite, punctual and tidy, he said.

Master painter Darryn Stewart said more young people were interested in becoming builders than in taking up his trade. He wondered if they realised how hard building was.

Painting and decorating was not as physically demanding, and brought the satisfaction of taking a project through to its finished state.

It would be great if schools could prepare pupils for futures in the trades, he said.

He usually has an apprentice among his team of eight and the current one has been with him for nearly a year.

Mr Stewart had considered expanding his business, but he did not want to.

He was so busy with work commitments that it was “very difficult to manage”. Whereas this time of year of year used to be quiet, it was now “100 miles an hour”.

Clients wanting their homes painted were annoyed they had to wait so long, he said. By the time a painter arrived, the original job had often expanded from two rooms to four.

That then put all other jobs further behind.

“All we can do is keep going – keep as many people as possible happy.

“We can’t really take on any new customers.”