Apprentice of the year swapped uni for on-the-job training

Mechanical engineering apprentice Caleb Orotaunga says being named the inaugural ATNZ Apprentice of the Year in November has given him more confidence and motivation to work even harder so he can live up to his new title.

However, an apprenticeship wasn’t Caleb’s first choice – he moved to Christchurch from Gisborne to study engineering at university, but found student life financially tough and left after the first year. After a stint of temporary roles, he applied for an apprenticeship, which has allowed him to earn while he learns at Kraft Heinz in Christchurch.

ATNZ General Manager Susanne Martin says Caleb’s dedication to excellence made him a deserving winner. “The ATNZ team first met Caleb in 2016 and he impressed us right from the start. He’s become a very competent engineer who has the ability to work unsupervised and bring fresh ideas and solutions to his role at Kraft Heinz.

“His manager holds him in high regard and even asked Caleb to fill in as workshop supervisor

while he was away on holiday. He’s dedicated to getting the job done and operates with a high standard of health and safety, which is vital in this industry.”

Once a month, Caleb meets with his ATNZ Account Manager Kevin Withell who checks on his progress and sets goals for the next month.

“He checks on my  bookwork and keeps me on the right track. He asks if I need any personal protection equipment (PPE) and if anything’s broken, like my boots or my face shield, he’ll replace it for me,” says Caleb.

Caleb does a wide range of work, including machine maintenance, fitting, fabrication and overhauling machinery.

“On a day-to-day basis, the main work I do is on machines that process three different types of crops,” explains Caleb. “I can also be asked to work on buildings and carry out work I have never done before. Because this is a food factory, keeping your tools and work area tidy is a must and it’s one of the jobs that the apprentice will do on a Friday afternoon in the workshop.”

Receiving the award in the third year of his qualification, he has also inspired his two brothers to move from Gisborne to Christchurch for a “better future”.

One of his brothers has undertaken a light fabricator apprenticeship, and his youngest brother now works alongside him at Kraft Heinz as a frozen packing general engineer apprentice.

The other apprentices at Kraft Heinz often turn to Caleb for support with their tasks in the workshop and  their learning to complete their qualifications.

He says new apprentices need to listen and learn, and take in all the skills and knowledge from the more experienced staff.

“When I started guys would say ‘get the gearbox ready’ and I was, like, ‘what’s a gearbox’? You can’t just go into a company and think you can learn to do things yourself and that you don’t need anyone to teach  you. It’s important to learn from experienced people and to soak up as much as you can, because by the time they leave you on your own, you need to know what you’re doing.

“I really want to get somewhere in life, to get a house and a dog,” says Caleb. “Having an apprenticeship has taken me from nowhere to getting a trade qualification. It’s setting me up for life.

“And I enjoy working with my hands and not being stuck in an office.”

As well as the inaugural title of ATNZ Apprentice of the Year, Caleb won $1,000 to spend on tools for his trade.