March 4th, 2013
Training in the Far North
For many New Zealanders, the Far North is a paradise of white sand beaches, mild winters and abundant seafood, a holiday playground enjoyed for a few brief weeks over Christmas and New Year. But for a lucky few, the Far North is simply home.
Ethan Gibbons is one such lucky person. He holds the honour of being the mechanical engineering apprentice the furthest North under an apprenticeship managed by Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ). Ethan lives and works in Houhora, a small coastal community a mere 66 kilometres from Cape Reinga.
With a population of around 800, Houhora is a small place steeped in history. According to Maori legend, Houhora Mountain was the first land sighted by early explorer Kupe. And it was another famous explorer - James Cook - who left his mark in 1769 by naming Mt Carmel at the entrance to Houhora harbour. In later years, the famous chief Hone Heke was defeated at nearby Pukenui.
The area was settled by Maori in the 14th
century and later, in the 19th
century, became a base for whalers. At that time the Wagener family started farming the area. Fast forward a hundred and fifty odd years and it is one of the Wagener clan that now seconds Ethan at Wagener Engineering through ATNZ.
Wagener Engineering is a small company punching well above its weight. Much of the work Wagener Engineering carries out comes from customers in orcharding and forestry and so is led by the seasonal demands of these sectors.
‘There’s always something for us to do but summertime is really busy,’ says Ethan. ‘At this time of year a lot of farmers want to get making hay and silage but their machinery’s been sitting in the shed for six or seven months. You’re panicking trying to get it done by Christmas. But we’re delighted!’ Ethan is quick to add.
Like with so many things, hard work becomes more manageable if you can share a laugh. Ethan credits his boss, Russell Wagener, with creating a good work environment. ‘Russell knows a lot and he’s good to talk to and a lot of fun to work with. It means we all get along real well.’
It helps too that the work is interesting. Being part of a small team means that Ethan has been exposed to a range of activities. There’s a lot of machining, fitting and welding, working on big machines like diggers and harvester heads. But Ethan still believes the best thing about the job is ‘fixing things that other people can’t.’
Ethan will soon become a qualified tradesperson and while many would consider a move to the city to explore career options, Ethan is committed to Houhora. He’s got a good reason too. ‘The lifestyle up here is great and the work we do is great. Besides the boss wants to retire and keeps dropping the hint.’
Ethan says he’d be interested in running the business after his boss retires. He also knows that such business opportunities are rare for young people especially in a place as beautiful as the Far North.