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Lower Hutt Local Named Apprentice Of The Year At National Construction Industry Awards

4 June, 2022 – MJH Engineering employee Connor Stewart was recently recognised as New Zealand’s best apprentice in the structural steel industry.

Steel Construction New Zealand’s (SCNZ’s) Apprentice of the Year award celebrates those whose skills, drive and willingness to learn has helped them to achieve outstanding outcomes. It recognises well-rounded people who demonstrate not only talent, but display traits important to the industry – commitment, innovation and agility.

“When I found out I’d made the top five finalists I was stoked and a bit shocked,” says Stewart. “I commend all the finalists; it sounds like they were highly skilled individuals.”

Stewart puts his success down to his drive to be better and to work hard. “It definitely doesn’t go unnoticed,” he says. “My advice to other apprentices is if you muck around it will be hard, but if you put your head down and work it is relatively easy to get into a rhythm.”

Stewart describes his approach to the apprenticeship as having his “nose to the grindstone”. Every day after work he spent four hours doing his paperwork and in his spare time he made sure he was “banging out” his welding electives and documenting everything. “Come the weekend, it meant I still had time to play.”

His passion for working with steel can be traced back to his time in the metal shop at high school in Taranaki. After leaving school at a relatively young age, Stewart enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship welding course, and later went on to complete a welding certification.

After a few years “bouncing around”, Stewart landed in The Hutt in 2016 and took up an opportunity with structural steel contractor MJH Engineering. After a year, the company offered him an apprenticeship, which took him three years to complete.

“It was daunting to start with. I’d never had so much paperwork in my life,” says Stewart.

MJH offered a very supportive environment while Stewart learnt the ropes. “If I asked a question, all of the MJH team, from the foremen to the production managers, they gave up their time to sit with me and explain things. It’s a good company to work for.”

The award also reflects the industry’s commitment to upskilling young members of the trade and investing in the future of the local structural steel industry, which is crucial given the impact of COVID on New Zealand-grown capability.

SCNZ chair Frank Van Schaijik says it’s pleasing to see more and more young people choosing a trade as a career path.

“People have come to realise that there are many successful careers in the trades, which can be attributed to New Zealand’s strong construction sector, and increased demand for high levels of performance and delivery capability,” says Van Schaijik.

“As a well-established industry we have a responsibility to ensure we pass on our skills and experience to the next generation of structural steel specialists to safeguard the future of the sector and support our economic recovery.”

And the industry is excelling in its commitment to foster bright young talent.

“Of the total workforce employed by local structural steel contractors, 9.1 percent are in a training programme, and 69 percent of structural steel contractors employ an average of four apprentices,” says Van Schaijik.

Stewart began his career with MJH in 2015 as a welder.

“He had a few hiccups to start but after a reality check he quickly started showing attributes that MJH require from their apprentices,” says Nick Beswick, project manager, MJH Engineering.

Stewart was offered his apprenticeship in 2016 and quickly went from strength to strength.

“Connor really started to shine when he went out on site, and quickly showed leadership qualities that are very rare in younger guys in this day and age,” says Beswick. “Our expectations of him keep changing because he steps up to the challenges time and time again. His level of communication and professionalism is the prime example of leadership we expect of site supervisors.”

Stewart is already focused on his next challenge. “Ever since I started at MJH I’ve had my eye on project management and running these big jobs. MJH will support me to do a Diploma in Project Management.”

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