Bruce Habgood began his working life as an apprentice at Norske Skog, training as a fitter, turner and machinist. He says the trades have given him “a great life with great experiences.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to work in an industry with huge variety. I’ve been exposed to everything from state of the art technology to tools brought over by James Cook!”
Today, the trades and apprentices are a focus of his work as a top union delegate.
Initially as an apprentice, Bruce couldn’t join the union, even though Norske Skog has always been a union site.
“In the early 80s when I started, apprentices couldn’t be a member because they weren’t allowed to vote on strike action,” says Bruce.
“Back in those days, strikes seemed to be the things most people were voting on, especially in places like Tasman pulp and paper mill.”
Times change though, and so do priorities. For Bruce, the role has meant doing things differently: “I guess it’s that trades thing. You see things you want changed and you think: either stop whingeing or do something about it!”
Today, Bruce walks the talk as Convenor of the Engineering and Infrastructure Industry Council, which he represents on the National Executive. He’s also on the Trades Reference Group, the union sub-committee which advises the Executive on issues related to the trades and apprenticeships.
He’s keen to see the Group take on a bigger role, as demand grows for skilled workers, amid changes to the way apprenticeships themselves are managed. That includes third party firms which now organise apprenticeships and place them with individual employers.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apprentices. If your employer is a third party even if you’ve spent all your working life working for someone else, that’s not how you build a two-way relationships,” says Bruce.
The Group is also fact finding on the quality of pre-apprenticeship training and whether current apprentice training is fit for purpose.
Bruce says some training isn’t properly aligned with the trade curriculum for specific trades, such as construction.
“With the trades reference group covering such a huge cross-section of the trades, I think it is a very good forum for us to be gathering information on what’s happening.”
Bruce says two new members have refreshed the line-up and he’s keen to see it take a more active role, promoting the interests of apprentices and the trades and advising not just the National Executive but the Government as well.
“Hopefully, now that we’ve got a decent government in, we can actually have some longer term thinking around the future – not just of trades, but also training, about what we need as a country to go forward,” he says.