Real-life Bob the Builder shares his wisdom

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2014
Ray Haley
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
CAMP MUM: Ray Haley catches up with Darren Speight, one of his former apprentices.

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There's a lot of wisdom stored in the grey hairs that stretch across Ray Haley's upper lip.

It's a thing of beauty, that moustache. Neatly trimmed, evenly combed.

But it's no fashion accessory. It's a moustache that serves a purpose - facial hair that means business.

When Mr Haley dives into Tauranga Harbour in full scuba gear, the only place not covered by his wetsuit, face mask and snorkel is his upper lip. The moustache makes sure the pesky jellyfish don't sting him there and leave him with a swollen rash.

"All scuba divers diving into that harbour should be wearing moustaches - even if they're female," he announces.

It's gems of wisdom like this that keep the straight-shooter in a job. He can't really define his job, but he helps a lot of people.

It all started with the opening of Wintec's Otorohanga Trade Training Centre.

He came on board with Wintec about eight years ago, when the dropout rate for apprentices in the town was around 70 per cent.

Under his watchful eye, that figure has dropped to 8 per cent.

Seven of the nine of this year's graduates are already employed.

"I have absolutely no doubt that by next year we'll have all nine employed."

Under the umbrella of his company, Comet Training, Mr Haley contracts to Wintec. He keeps the "industry focus" on their pre-trade courses.

If you name a trade, he's probably done it. He was a mechanic, dive instructor, quarry manager and car parts manager. He fell into the dive instructing because the guy who taught him was rubbish - he thought he could do better so he did.

"They say you've got about six or seven careers in you, don't they? Oh yeah, I've still got a couple then."

He's made a bit of money over the years, but that's not what it's about. As long as he's got enough to live on and have a couple of bikes in the garage, he's happy.

It's about continuing to learn and grow. He always likes a challenge, so when there's no challenge left in this job he'll just move on to the next one. He might try his hand at singing. When he gets going on the karaoke machine, he does a mean rendition of Led Zep's Stairway to Heaven.

But it's machinery that really makes him tick. He'll always be a mechanic at heart and he knows just about everyone in town that can employ an apprentice.

Through his business, he runs night classes, getting the apprentices up to speed to pass their paperwork. His biggest successes involve getting an illiterate man through his coursework along with producing the foreman for a workshop in town.

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That foreman, Darren Speight, is a man of few words, but makes it clear Mr Haley is a "top bloke".

"He kept us on track . . . he taught us not to stop when it got too hard."

The night classes came about when he thought back on his own time as an apprentice in Piopio. It was too far away for him to make it to the classes in Hamilton, and it was hard. "I felt like I was drowning for four years, so if I can help somebody get through easier than I did, well that's just great."

So how does he connect with the guys? How does he make them get it?

He says he doesn't really go by the books. If their jobs make them work 8 till 5, then they'll be in class 8 till 5. And he puts things in their terms.

"Well there's a good electrical one I teach them, but I can't tell you about that - it's not for girls' ears."

Mr Haley is also a member of the Otorohanga District Development Board, and this year he has expanded that membership to becoming the town's youth co-ordinator.

He does the fundraising, the coaching, the development, the fishing trips.

He's the guy you call on when the furniture needs moved from the old Wintec building to the new one.

Mr Haley is so involved in the 5000-strong town, someone once dubbed him "Camp Mum". Vague memory tells him it might have been Len Brown, during one of his visits there, but he doesn't really want to admit that at the moment.

If you visit his house on a Saturday afternoon with your tools and a problem, he'll fix it - or at least help you fix it.

"They're not allowed to borrow my tools though. "

He's the real-life Bob the Builder . . . "I'm Mr Fix-It. What do they say? Jack of all trades, master of none. Yeah, that's me."

Mr Haley has lived in Otorohanga 33 years. He grew up in Te Kuiti and made the "big move" to the Kiwiana capital when he wed his wife. They had two girls there, now aged 31 and 33, who both did the Kiwi thing and shot off to the UK.

"I guess that's why I've got all my new children."

But even with both daughters leaving the nest, Mr Haley wouldn't dream of leaving Otorohanga. He loves it there.

"It's where we brought up my kids. It's been a good town to us all the time we've been here, so it's about time I gave something back I think." jenna.lynch@waikatotimes.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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