September 9th, 2013

When going in blind pays off

Natalie Kerwin admits she didn’t know what she was getting into when she embarked on a career in the trades. But half way through her National Certificate in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning or HVAC, there is no doubt in her mind that this is what she wants to be doing.

An engineering workshop may not be the most common choice for a young woman leaving school but that’s where the 19 year old found herself - working as a labourer. ‘I went in blind. My friends at school thought it was a bit different, a little bit crazy. They all went off to university. But I thought I’d give this a try instead.’

The gamble paid off. The next two years Natalie spent honing hers skills and building up her knowledge of what it means to work in an engineering environment. ‘When I saw a job advertised working with a team out at Ohakea, I knew I had all the basic skills.’

The team in question was the Tech Mechanical HVAC team that would later offer Natalie an opportunity to complete her HVAC apprenticeship. Gaining a qualification is important to Natalie. She sees it as a natural part of forging a career in the trades. ‘It’s recognition of your skills – you’ve got better job prospects and you can demonstrate that you’ve got the right training for the job.’

As the only apprentice in a team of five HVAC technicians, Natalie feels lucky to be exposed to such a wide variety of work for both domestic and industrial customers.  ‘We install heat pumps right through to commercial heating systems.

That’s what I love, HVAC is so diverse and we often tie in with teams from other divisions on projects.’ Natalie says HVAC is still a relatively small industry in New Zealand but one that is experiencing real growth. She’d like to see more young people coming through to explore opportunities in the sector and hopes in a few years to have the industry experience to coach a new batch of apprentices through the more challenging parts of gaining the HVAC qualification.

‘You have to be a hands-on person, you have to like getting out and about, and be a good problem solver too. You’ve also got to keep on top of the compulsory coursework because managing your workload can be really tricky.’ Natalie believes teamwork is essential.

‘You’ve got to be a good communicator. And be tolerant of others. Everyone has a different personality.’ Natalie speaks highly of her workmates and is pretty clear that being the only woman on the team has never been an issue. ‘I’ve always just been the apprentice. I haven’t done things any differently – I’m just the same as the guys.With the right attitude, there’s no reason for anyone to see you any differently.’