Power apprentices . . . Plunket Electrical’s more mature apprentices (from left) Mike Mullins and Dennis Clarke, with managing director Mark Rawson. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

The word apprentice is usually synonymous with school leavers, but two men in the more mature age bracket might be sparking a new trend at Plunket Electrical.

Dennis Clarke (51) and Mike Mullins (50) are both in the process of completing their apprenticeships with the Oamaru company, and it is proving to be a success story, Mr Clarke taking top honours at the South Canterbury Master Electricians Apprentice Challenge last week.

Mr Clarke, who began his working life as a labourer, said when he was at the age you would usually get an apprenticeship, it was very hard to get one.

He did eventually complete an engineering apprenticeship but, after about 32 years in that industry, decided it was time for a change.

“It’s always been an interest of mine. Again, I’d never had the opportunity. It’s something I enjoy – electronics, electrical work.”

He was a year into gaining his qualification, which generally took about three and a-half years.

Mr Mullins actually started his apprenticeship 32 years ago, but “other things got in the way”.

He had also worked as a labourer, before heading overseas to play rugby for nine years.

On his return, he worked for the North Otago Rugby Union for four years, before going to work for Youthtown.

“Then eight years into working for Youthtown they were restructuring, and I had a choice to stay within that area, or move on. So I thought that I’d move on, and go back and do my apprenticeship again – but this time time finish it.”

Mr Mullins had just finished his third year, and would sit his final exams at the end of this year.

“Being out of school for 30-odd years, and literally going back to school is a bit different – especially if school wasn’t my strong point.”

He saw it a chance to teach his “semi-older children” that they could do anything at any time in their lives.

“Also, having the resilience to challenge yourself.”

Both men said their boss, managing director Mark Rawson, was “passionate” about the apprentice scheme.

“Mark is really fired up about training his apprentices,” Mr Clarke said.

“And those in management positions around us are really supportive. There’s some good people to learn off here.”

For the men, balancing study on top of work and family commitments proved challenging, and Mr Mullins also worked a second job at the Waitaki Boys’ High School hostel.

There were apprentices from a few different age-groups working at Plunket, some in their late 20s, and also 19 to 20-year-olds.

Mr Rawson said the two men brought maturity and level heads to the team, and came with a set of life skills.

“It’s a huge opportunity to get those skills on the team, because if you have a mix, it seems to mingle better. They sort of help each other.”

It was important for the company to invest in apprentices. Not only the $500 per year for their training, but also the time investment.

“I guess it’s the investment of employing them, really. And it’s a really important one. Everything costs money, and downtime and all that. But … it’s real important.”

The benefit of having older apprentices, was they tended to be more settled, he said.

It’s important to the company because we’ve got to train for our industry. It’s a no-brainer, and the stable ones, well I try to keep all of them, to be fair – but you can’t keep all of them, so you’ve got to have a number of different levels, I guess, with different goals and aspirations.”

Two other apprentices from Oamaru Plunket Electrical, Harry Campbell and Matthew Burgess, competed at the Dunedin apprentice competitions on July 23, while Mr Clarke, Mr Mullins and Joel Pickles competed in Timaru on July 28. Another Plunket apprentice, Wiari Tuite, from the Timaru branch, came third in the South Canterbury competition.