Skilled labour and the lack of it is a big issue that has received plenty of media headlines over the last 12 months.
Across Hawke’s Bay, many businesses are calling out for skilled labour and one Hastings-based business has come up with an innovative partnership with Hastings Boys’ High School (HBHS).
Patton Engineering’s trial last year with HBHS was so successful that not only have other engineering businesses such as McLaren Stainless and DSK also jumped on board, but the technology department at the school is becoming the envy of other schools around the country with modern equipment and a healthy stock pile of materials.
Patton Engineering has a long history with HBHS, with current director Mike Patton and former director Gavin Patton (recently retired) being old boys.
When new shareholders and directors Johnno Williams and Andrew Burn took over the business in 2018, Patton Engineering was performing strongly but struggling to recruit skilled labour locally.
The idea to partner with the school came at Gavin’s farewell. After 19 years working for Mike and Gavin, the new owners decided that they wanted to give more back to the local community.
The question was how?
With plenty of work coming in the door, the pressing issue was skilled labour.
“We would get CVs with the belief that the person was highly skilled, but in many instances that wasn’t the case. They weren’t as capable as what they were telling us, so we started doing tests instead and when we got them into a welding situation, many couldn’t perform,” says Johnno.
As a short-term solution they decided to recruit nine staff from the Philippines, but they were determined to find a long-term local solution.
“We have an aging workforce and we need young kids coming through and learning off these older guys.”
That’s when Johnno turned up at the headmaster’s office.
“I went and saw Rob with some pretty big aspirations but he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a one-off opportunity.
“I told him we were committed 120 percent for the long haul. To us it’s a journey, not a short-term view, and we wanted to take on apprentices every year going forward.”
After nearly a year (the programme started in May 2018), Patton Engineering has formed a committee; it has more than 23 supporting business involved and head of technology Salla Delport has “600 students learning some form of technology” in a well kitted- out workshop at school, regular placements at three engineering workshops and career pathways.
Rob Sturch says Salla deserves as much credit as Johnno and Andrew, as he’s a teacher whom students love to learn from.
“As a headmaster I’ve learned that students choose teachers, not subjects. If there is a class with 30 and a class with 4 I can tell you straight away who the best teacher is.”
He says the added attraction is that students can also see the potential career opportunities by learning both at school and at the engineering firms.
Patton Engineering managing director Johnno Williams (left) with student and head of technology Salla Delport
“They can see the opportunity to get a job, to earn money, and there’s structure around the learning experience.”
For Salla, he says new equipment with funding support from trusts like One Foundation – purchasing materials at cheaper rates by taking advantage of the buying power of Patton’s and other firms – and getting work experience at engineering workshops is making technology the most popular subject at school. The cost of resources has gone down 75 percent.
“Previously the boys would make something like a steel pencil case as our budget was very limited, but we now spend less on materials like steel but we also get more of it. Students now make things like personal sound systems and BBQs.
“What’s great is that Year 12s go to Patton’s, DSK and McLaren’s to learn welding and they are using the same equipment.”
Ektaj Singh is one of three boys chosen for an apprenticeship with Patton Engineering. In 2018 he had hands-on experience in the company’s workshop for one day every fortnight, doing welding and steel fabrication. He says it was a great opportunity and has provided a career direction.
“I love it, but if it wasn’t for the help and direction from my teachers, I wouldn’t be here. The school’s also given me a toolbox and some starting tools.” The idea has paid off and both the school and Patton Engineering are being looked at by both the education sector and the engineering fraternity as the model school/career programme.