What’s it like being an apprentice? In this new series, third year apprentice Sebastian Sekene gives us a glimpse into his working day.

What are you working on right now?

For the past two years I’ve been doing remedial and renovation site work on a 36 apartment project. I learn best by repetition, so I really enjoy commercial work where you do the same task over and over. We’re remilling waste and water pipes from the ground up, as we’ve changed out the whole pipe system from plastic to copper.

Do you also have maintenance experience?

In my first year, I was at a different company that only did maintenance work. No two days were the same, so I had to take notes to remember how to do tasks. You might install a wall hung basin and then not do another for three months.

Outward Bound July 2022 - Sebastian
Sebastian (centre) sailing with Sheppard Watch on the 2022 Outward Bound BETA course.

Any challenges on your current project?

For the past week, I’ve been installing hot water cylinders every day. Whoever said the third time is the charm has obviously never bent copper before. There’s not much play— you have to work within a few millimetres. If it’s over or under, it won’t work. It’s a headache if you have multiple bends in one piece and some are not standard 90° or 45° bends. You really have to go by eye.

There must be rewards too?

I had to try my best to further my learning and skills to get put in a van—and it finally happened last month. I’m now helping other plumbers learn and also working in with other trades and the site foreman. Some apprentices get put in a van in their first year but I need to do a lot of study to understand things. Now I’m in a van, I can go out on my own jobs and figure things out myself. I can always call up if I’m not sure but it’s best to give it a go first.

What if you make a mistake?

I love to learn from mistakes. Everyone makes them. I learn by watching someone do the work. If I still don’t get it, I ask them to explain it to me in simple terms. I used to be scared of PVC work but I was put with the best tradesman at it and watched how he did things. I added my own way to his and now it’s my favourite. There are 100 ways to skin a cat and you need to try different methods and pick what works for you. You gain confidence by figuring things out on your own, doing them right and getting acknowledged for a good job.

Pete Shields workplace assessing with apprentice Sebastian Sekene
Sebastian (right) is shown here on site with first-year apprentice Noah (left) and Masterlink Business Development Manager Pete Shields.

Any highlights this year?

I’m one of 26 apprentices in a new Masterlink initiative to help boost our block course theory learning by assessing our skills on site. It’s an amazing process that I hadn’t experienced in my apprenticeship before. I was also picked for a Masterlink Outward Bound Scholarship and went on the course in July. I put myself out of my comfort zone to learn leadership skills. You spend three days hiking in the bush and sailing in cramped conditions with people you’ve only just met. You’re thrown together in a new environment and you have to get along so you don’t ruin it for everyone. It was one of the most enjoyable but also challenging times I’ve experienced.

Sebastian Sekene is a 21-year-old Masterlink plumbing, drainlaying and gasfitting apprentice, hosted by Heron Plumbing in Auckland.

This article first appeared in NZ Plumber magazine Oct-Nov 2022.