Barrie Smith: Ingraining work in our DNA should begin from a young age

Barrie Smith says it's pleasing to see apprenticeships coming back en vogue.
Murray Wilson/ FAIRFAX NZ

Barrie Smith says it's pleasing to see apprenticeships coming back en vogue.

OPINION: Recently we had a young electrician come to repair a light switch. 

Then when I got talking to him he said he had started working for his Stratford boss last Christmas and that he was doing his apprenticeship.

I was very impressed to know that apprenticeships were now back in favour.

Graduates of the compulsory military training scheme post WWII learned vital discipline and experience.
Esther Ashby-Coventry

Graduates of the compulsory military training scheme post WWII learned vital discipline and experience.

When I left Stratford High School during the May holidays in 1951, I went home to work on the family farm which was common practice then.

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But what was significant during that period of time was, unless you went home to the farm or into a family business, you were told you must select a trade and begin your apprenticeship.

Females mostly went to teachers training college, nursing or became shop assistants, while males would be encouraged to take an apprenticeship in the building trade, engineering, butchery or become an electrician.

Interesting I don't ever recall hearing the word unemployed or on the dole as there was full employment. These words just simply did not feature in our vocabulary.

But unfortunately as the welfare state grew so did we see apprenticeships disappear much to the detriment of workers, business and New Zealand.

So for me, and I'm sure I speak for many other Kiwis, to see apprenticeships coming back is great as they can be the lifeblood of industry.

Following the end of World War II, New Zealand introduced compulsory military training for all young men over 18 years old.

I was conscripted into the 13th intake where, along with 69 other locals, I boarded a train in Stratford for Linton Military Camp (just south of Palmerston North) in April 1954.

There we were given an IQ test, given our army clothing, showered with 30 others, had tea and went to bed on a very cold night to sleep on a palliasse mattress (straw).

Next morning we boarded the train again bound for Waiouru Military Camp and what an experience it was. I never heard anyone say anything bad about the experience but we intakees could talk for hours about that 10 and a half week experience. Then, for the following two years we attended a fortnightly camp at both Tehoi (north of Taupō)  and a camp just north of Waiouru I think called Dabba (from the North African war).

We learned so much about working as a team but more importantly we learned to accept discipline so when our commander said jump, you said how high, Sir!

This discipline and experience was the backbone of our group of Kiwis and I'm sure we would all agree this is sadly lacking in our society today.

I guess looking back at this post WWII period and knowing how close we were to being invaded, one can understand the need to be better prepared.

I do understand NZ and the world has changed dramatically from my earlier years. Now, the cyber world leaves us only seconds away from anywhere in the world, but I ask: Is it better for us as a nation?

We humans still need to calve and milk the cows, drive the tractor and feed out, man the supermarkets, drive the delivery trucks and vans, repair the breakdowns and most important be well trained to perform the above tasks plus many more, which is where apprenticeships come to the fore!

There is this big political debate going on right now about the numbers of immigrants allowed onto our shores. We have many sectors crying out for labour but my question is, are they skilled to perform these duties or do they need to be retrained and, for the Auckland area, do they have a home to go to or are they exacerbating the housing problem.

We need to be asking more of these vital questions, in fact tightening the criteria for entry. But if they are prepared to go and work anywhere in New Zealand that is a different scenario.

Unfortunately it seems it's human nature that if you can get something for nothing then you'll go for it, but that's not the real world. From the time one leaves school it should be ingrained in your DNA that you work for a living.

I think of those pioneers that emigrated to New Zealand in the 1800s and worked their butts off so you and I could have a great and prosperous future.

 - Stuff

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