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Staff training and development are an important part of the culture at Wellington Pipelines. As well as helping the company to meet local authority requirements, owner James Fruean says that training is having huge benefits in terms of productivity, business growth and staff retention.

Fruean founded Wellington Pipelines in 2001, and started out with just a couple of staff. Today the company has grown to over 20 employees. It offers a range of drainage and general contractor services in the Wellington region, and is an approved contractor for Wellington City Council.

The company recognises the value of training linked to qualifications, and works with a number of Industry Training Organisations (ITOs). Six employees are currently working towards national certificates with InfraTrain, including four modern apprentices who are training to become infrastructure pipelaying or water reticulation technicians.

Fruean says that having qualified staff makes his business more robust. “Guys who’ve been through the qualifications feel more committed to the company, and most of our staff have been with us for a long time,”he explains.”It’s important for us to grow our own staff, and train them our own way to become competent tradespeople.

Many Wellington Pipelines’ employees have joined the company early in their career and worked their way up the ranks. Fruean says, “I’m very focused on bringing young apprentices through. We use a simple but effective training model, where we pair up the youngsters with our head fitters.

“A lot of small businesses are put off training because they feel they don’t have the resources. But it is precisely these businesses who can’t afford not to train.”

Our more experienced guys tick all the boxes in terms of skills, knowledge, and attitude, which they can pass down.

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“As our apprentices go through the learning process you can see their comprehension skills developing. Their approach to work isn’t just reactive – they begin to think about what they’re doing. They can anticipate and manage their workload. Once they have finished their apprenticeship, I like to think they not only have exceptional technical skills, but that they also know what the company is all about.”

Professional development isn’t just limited to apprentices, and all staff are encouraged to gain qualifications. Fruean and one of his supervisors recently achieved a National Certificate in Water Reticulation through recognition of current competence (RCC), which is for people with significant industry experience. “It’s really important for me to lead by example,” he explains. “Next up, the two of us will complete a supervision qualification, again through RCC.”

Fruean stresses that training is a partnership and is the joint responsibility of the trainee, the ITO, and particularly the employer. “The whole system needs buy in from the employer,” he says. “It’s not just enough to pay the fee and leave your staff to it. It’s important to give plenty of guidance. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful – we recognise that support is the key.”

He adds, “A lot of small businesses are put off training because they feel they don’t have the resources. But it is precisely these businesses who can’t afford not to train. If you think outside of the square a bit and use the skills and strengths of different employees, you can make industry training work for you.”

InfraTrain training advisor Red Thompson says that the learning environment at Wellington Pipelines is a major factor in its success with training. “The company offers tremendous support to all of its staff who are working towards qualifications,” she says. “Both James, and Michelle MacGregor who works in the office, are great at checking that the guys are able to get the evidence they need for their workbooks. They also help the guys to make the best use of their time to keep working through what they need to do.”

Thompson adds, “What I see working really well is the understanding from James that his trainees need regular and structured support to be able to achieve. We have frequent communication about where the guys are at, what they are working on, and what help they are going to need. It has been a pleasure to work with James and the rest of team, and to see the success which they’ve achieved.”

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Kaimana MacGregor is doing a modern apprenticeship in Water Reticulation. His apprenticeship includes two qualifications – a National Certificate in Infrastructure Works Level 2, followed by a National Certificate in Water Reticulation (Planned & Reactive Maintenance Technician) Level 3.

MacGregor says, “I’m doing my apprenticeship under the supervision of our foreman, Junior Vaele. My apprenticeship is going well and Junior is great to work with. He knows the work inside out and is happy to pass on his knowledge. I’ve learned loads from him. I started off with basic labouring duties and am gradually progressing to more technical work using tools and plant. I keep a daily work diary, which I’m using to help me complete the activities in my qualification workbook.” He adds, “I really like the crew that I work with. They’re a great bunch of guys. I also enjoy the variety, and the fact that I get to work on jobs from start to finish. I take pride in my work, and it’s good to be able to see the end result of the projects I’m working on.”

Vaele feels that on-job training is the ideal way for apprentices like MacGregor to learn the ropes. He says, “We just threw Mana in at the deep end, so that he’s learning from the start. It’s important for our apprentices to learn by ‘doing’ rather than just ‘watching’. We get Mana involved at every stage, so he isn’t just a cog in the machine. It’s important for him to see the whole process and understand how his role fits the bigger picture.”

Vaele adds, “Mana is doing very well. He’s got a good attitude, and wants to learn. He’s picked up a lot in a short time and has come a long way from just pushing the broom!”