There’s a bit of a difference between dairy farming and being an electrician. But sometimes in life you just have to change direction.
That’s what Rody Wiltenburg found when he was 22, after five years working on a dairy farm. “I was about to become a manager but there just didn’t seem proper reward for all the effort you were putting in.”
So Rody joined an electrical company, French Electrical, on a trial basis. “At the end of three weeks, sitting down on a Friday night, my boss Chris French asked me what I wanted to do. Bugger off or take an apprenticeship?”
It wasn’t a hard decision. Rody could tell Chris liked apprentices and there was a really good team atmosphere in the company. He liked the working and earning environment too – gaining practical knowledge at the same time as learning the theory and getting paid.
There’s a lot to learn. “You definitely get the safety message early on.” Rody says when you start out you’re running lots of cable and you’re not really sure of what you’re doing. But the tradesmen above keep a very good eye on the apprentices. “You’re not going to get a big switchboard to play around with on the first day. They warn you what’s hazardous and what not to do”. His team has played a huge part in his success as an apprentice. “You can basically call anyone in the company and ask questions and they’ll help you. It’s about having the right tools and the right knowledge to check everything is ok before you do anything.”
Ask Rody what he likes best about being an electrician and he says the variation. “It’s not just the same old thing every day. You can go to five to six places and have to pick at problems to find out what’s wrong. It’s rewarding when you sort it out, you get a sense of accomplishment.”
“We did a bloody big house out at Whitford once, putting up a huge crystal chandelier. Took about three days. It hung from the ceiling past one floor right down to the next. That was cool. You sat back at the end of it and went, far out!”
On another occasion, Rody found himself three stories up, on the roof of McDonald’s on Quay Street in Auckland. “Being blown around in harness while putting up Santa and his reindeer was a bit on the edge!” Rody says with cherry pickers and boom lifts, you soon become acclimatised to heights. And about the physical side of the job, he says, “You don’t have to be a fitness bunny. But it helps if you’re a little bit leaner for getting into tight situations!”
Now, at the end of three years, Rody is waiting on the results of his final exam to become qualified as a general electrician. He’s already passed his Regulations exam – “The rules, what you can and can’t do, how close you can have a light fitting to a shower, the nitty gritty of it all.” But the theory side of things has been a bit more challenging.
“It’s about calculations more than anything. If you have a long run of cable, for example, you get volt drop. You have to work that sort of stuff out.” He says because he’s more of a practical person, he’s had to re-sit the Theory exam. And while he’s not amazing at maths, he’s “not shocking” either. This time he’s cracked it, and is about to become a licensed electrician.