The first-ever winner of the Masterlink Apprentice of the Year is Samoan-born Eti Sauvao — an adult apprentice with a positive outlook and an incredible work ethic. We discover why Eti is so well respected by clients and colleagues alike.

Third-year apprentice Editor (Eti) Sauvao knows the power of a smile, and he has one for everyone he comes into contact with. “I am yet to hear of a customer, his boss or colleagues having anything but positive things to say about him,” said his first Masterlink Regional Manager Rupert Sanford-Scutt, and current RM Steve Meadows would agree.

This is all the more impressive, given that Eti had a tough upbringing and readily admits to having made life mistakes along the way. When he came from a previous plumbing employer to Ben Mayne Plumbing in Auckland in 2020, Eti was determined to learn as much as he could and to achieve some personal goals—including working to earn enough to visit and support his young son from a previous relationship.

His positive attitude when faced with challenges, coupled with his huge work ethic, made Eti a stand-out candidate to be recognised as Masterlink Apprentice of the Year—a new award supported by Makita and established in 2022 to mark Masterlink’s 20th anniversary.

Eti is a great role model to the other four Masterlink apprentices at Ben Mayne Plumbing and is looked up to by all of them. “They all admire the way he comes in every day enthusiastic about the day’s work ahead—approaching each job, no matter how hard, with the same level of determination,” said Rupert in nominating Eti for the award.

Whether it’s a plumbing maintenance job or a civil drainlaying project, Eti will have prepared his gear the night before so he’s ready to head out bright and early in his van, which he always keeps immaculately clean and tidy. “He also plans for the next day by making job lists with the gear needed, which he will pick up on his way home or get a delivery booked in,” says boss Ben Mayne.

Richard Turner Eti Sauvao Ben Mayne
Eti at his award presentation, with boss Ben Mayne (right) and former All Black Richard Turner, now Director of Jennian Homes Rodney.

He has always been engaging and willing to go above and beyond whenever asked, as well as displaying initiative and problem solving to get the job done. He is a great ambassador for Master Plumbers and Masterlink.

- Richard Turner, Director of Jennian Homes Rodney

Second-year apprentice Liam McCathie goes so far as to say Eti has inspired him to be a better plumber and is someone he wants to emulate. “He is a hard worker, always fun, and always gets the job done,” says Liam. “He is always willing to give me a hand when I need it and show me the best possible way to do things.”

Liam says Eti is smart too, and that’s backed up by high marks in his MIT trainee progress reports towards his New Zealand Certificate in Drainlaying—though Eti admits he didn’t find studying easy at first. Quite shy in the classroom setting at the start, he has matured and developed as the course has progressed, and is now perfectly happy to ask questions.

Fellow student Hera Eruera says Eti is also not afraid of keeping everyone in line and learning. “If you’re talking loud while the lecturer is teaching, he will ask the tutor to pause for a sec and tell whoever is disrupting the class to save their convo for later—never like he’s telling you off and shaming you, but more in a way that makes you realise our time on block course is precious and we need to be more on to it. He goes out of his way to help a classmate who is a bit behind during practical.”

Of Samoan heritage and with a tattooed neck, Eti has experienced racism and judgment in the construction industry, with one client telling his boss they didn’t want him on site. “To which I told them they would have to wait a few more weeks to get another plumber and the cost of their job would go up, as they wouldn’t be as quick as Eti,” recalls Ben. “The customer changed their tune pretty quick and after he had completed the job, they were happy with the quality of the work, the time taken and his politeness throughout.”

Editor Sauvao
Eti Sauvao, 2022 Masterlink Apprentice of the Year, with his Makita XGT 6-piece power tool combo kit prize, worth over $3,000, at his award presentation in June.

Ben Mayne Plumbing has grown considerably over the last few years, and it hasn’t always been an easy road. “With the support from Eti and my other workers, we have made it to here,” says Ben. “I have grown a lot with Eti showing me that even on hard days you can still crack a smile and a joke—and that trust can still be earned.”

Modest by nature, Eti isn’t one to blow his own trumpet, but there are plenty of others ready and willing to do it for him. Former All Black Richard Turner is one of them. Now Director of Jennian Homes Rodney, Richard has got to know Eti well, having worked with Ben Mayne Plumbing for the past three years.

“He has always been engaging and willing to go above and beyond whenever asked, as well as displaying initiative and problem solving to get the job done,” says Richard. “He is a great ambassador for Master Plumbers and Masterlink.”

This article, written by Beverly Sellers, first appeared in NZ Plumber magazine Aug-Sep 2022