TOP BUILDERS: Tasman Homes owner Garry Nott, centre, with his two apprentices Thomas Ashley, left, and Andy Wells after the New Zealand Certified Builders Apprentice Challenge on Saturday. Andy won the challenge, while Thomas finished in third place. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Andy and Tom building on their career changes

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Two of Nelson’s top apprentice builders and workmates, Andy Wells and Tom Ashley, have taken an unconventional path to their new careers, exchanging snowboards and bicycles for hammers and tool belts.

Andy and Tom, who both work for Tasman Homes, finished first and third respectively in the New Zealand Certified Builders (NZCB) Apprentice Challenge regional finals at ITM Nelson on Saturday. Although they are both well on the way to becoming accomplished tradesmen, they have taken their time to find their dream job.

“I started-off doing an outdoor education degree and then going rock climbing, white water rafting and snowboarding for 15 years,” Andy, who is in his third year of his apprenticeship, says. “I was a snowboard instructor in Canada for years and came back here in  summer and go to Queenstown or do other outdoor stuff.”

Although Andy, 36, is a late starter in the building industry, he was always interested in “working with my hands and making things”. Andy says his step-father was a builder and he helped him build their family home and “was always playing round in his workshop.”

After he married Yasna, Andy says he decided to come back to New Zealand and settle down.

“I’m a new father now so had to step down from all the adventure in my life. I’m really enjoying the building and I still get up to Rainbow once a year and go for a bit of a slide so we’re really happy.”’

Tom, 23, started his building apprenticeship after a stint as a pro cyclist racing in New Zealand and Belgium.

“Cycling and building are quite different things but there are similarities, you learn to work quite hard as a cyclist, as any athlete really, and it translates quite well,” Tom says. “I just like making stuff, there’s nothing better than a good honest day on the building site and you always have something to show for it at the end.

It’s definitely pretty different but I like living back in Nelson, you get that balance of doing activities like riding my bike and rock climbing in the weekends rather than coming home from work every day and having to go riding straight away.”

Tom says Tasman Homes Owner Garry Nott “really got behind us, he actually went in and changed all the blades on the saws and was probably more serious than us”. “Andy and I both went in with the strategy of using templates which definitely helped with the angles and things on the day. Garry was up north at a wedding and flew back just as we finished so as soon as we landed Andy was on the phone to him and Garry was pretty chuffed I think.”

Garry says Andy and Tom are both top employees who work hard and learn fast.

“It’s a very tough competition to win so they did really well. They are going to be very good builders but we can take some of the credit for picking them right.”

The seven finalists had to complete a practical test which involved building an outdoor table and bench seating.

NZCB chief executive Grant Florence says fostering more quality apprentices is critical for the future of New Zealand’s growing building industry. It is especially critical in context of the construction boom and current shortage of qualified builders to meet demand, he says.

“It’s great to see so many of Tasman’s local apprentices taking up the opportunity to participate in the NZCB Apprentice Challenge,” he says. “NZCB is pleased to give back to the community by way of donating the finished products, with materials sponsor ITM.”

Andy won a Makita Drill and Driver and a $300 ITM gift voucher, and will represent Tasman in the national final to be held at the NZCB annual conference in Auckland on May 26-27.