Plumbing may have an unglamorous reputation, but for Wintec Māori Pasifika Trades training (MPTT) student, Tuku Rapana-Stevenson, there’s a whole lot more involved than just unblocking pipes.
As well as the practical and technical side of things, plumbing, like any trade is also about developing good relationships.
After a three-month trial, he has landed a plumbing apprenticeship in his hometown, Raglan with Protech Plumbing.
Tuku lives in Raglan, but he went to school in Huntly, at Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga, which he credits for helping him to get on his career and life journey.
Earlier this year, he signed up for a free six-month Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying Level 3 course with the MPTT whānau at Wintec.
While the MPTT team actively seek positions for their students, Tuku took the plunge and approached Grant and Jess Mathis at Protech.
Now he has been bitten by the plumbing bug and is already inspiring some of his friends to take it up as a trade.
“It wasn’t easy at the start,” he says.” At first you have to think constantly about everything you do, but that’s the reality of plumbing. Everything you touch has to be done right and you have one opportunity to get it right.”
With only four local plumbers and growing demand in Raglan, there is no shortage of work in this community.
With Tuku on board, Grant Mathis has a team of four, including his partner in life, Jess Mathis who coordinates the business end of Protech Plumbing. He is proud of doing a job well and positive about the future.
“Technology is really changing the way we work and believe it or not, plumbing is exciting,” says Mathis.
“We never know where we are going to be next or what we are going to be working on. We have to drop and run at times, and the hardest part is not knowing when.”
A plumbing apprenticeship is a five-year journey and Tuku will join another apprentice at Protech who is now in year three. Mathis says that making the decision to take on an apprentice is a decision based on compatibility, work ethic and skills.
“It’s quite a journey learning everything you need to know about the supply of water and gas or removing waste including gasfitting and drainlaying. Every day Tuku is arming himself with more vital skills and those skills support us,” says Mathis.
Wintec MPTT Work Broker Kaleo Benavides and Student Advisor Dan Rikihana are part of a wider team who support Māori and Pasifika students holistically and academically. They will continue to be there for Tuku who is Māori, Tongan and Samoan.
Plumbing is the most successful trade course at Wintec in terms of student choice, course completion and employment,” says Benavides.
However, it is not as easy as it looks.
“Young students get bombarded by plumbing detail at the start. Now that Tuku has put in the time, he is right amongst it and in the thinking zone. He has just clicked with plumbing.”
For the past three months Tuku has been on a paid 90-day trial where he has been learning on the job. At the end of this, he got the good news he had earned an apprenticeship at Protech.
Rikihana and Benavides agree that landing a successful apprenticeship is just like dating.
“It’s a relationship,” says Rikihana.
“Both sides need to get to know each other, so the three-month trial is good, it’s like dating. If you’re not compatible, then it’s not going to work out. The decision to take on an apprentice is not a light one.”
Both agree the importance of teaching soft skills is often underestimated. Manners, the message on your phone and the way you communicate are important. “After all,” says Benavides, “trades are about working with people”.
Mathis says they are lucky with Tuku.
“Tuku has been brought up in a really respectful and good family and it shows.”
Tuku has also lived in Auckland and Gisborne but mostly grew up in Raglan where he is part of an extended and supportive whānau. His mum is a teacher and his dad is a compassionate tā moko artist.
He is not only fluent in te reo Māori, it is his first language.
“I’m thinking about how I can share te reo with the people I meet in my day to day life and even what this means for my plumbing career.”
Rikihana says plumbers are not pretentious, they just do stuff.
Benavides says it’s all about legacy, the passing down of skills and it’s Tuku’s time.
Image: Jess and Grant Mathis (left) with new apprentice Tuku Rapana-Stevenson (centre) and Wintec MPTT team members Kaleo Benavides and Dan Rikihana (far right).