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Leading the way

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Teaching runs in carpenter Chris Tapp’s genes and it’s proving to be a huge benefit to the apprentices learning the ropes at one of Canberra’s largest commercial builders.

On the surface it may appear that carpenter Chris Tapp has diverted from his family’s choice of career by opting to make his in the building industry. Back in his home country of New Zealand his mother and three sisters all became teachers while he transitioned from school into a trade apprenticeship. 
Considering the course of his professional journey so far however, perhaps teaching was always going to be part of Chris’ vocation – if just in a different context. For nearly 15 years he has worked for Canberra Commercial Contractors, and during this time has been heavily involved with the training of the numerous apprentices whom the business has taken on over the years.

‘Originally, I did my carpentry apprenticeship and I do enjoy working as a carpenter, but I’ve found I also really enjoy managing people,’ he says. 
Sometimes called the foreman and other times the project manager, in his day-to-day job Chris oversees the operations for the diverse building contracts that are Canberra Commercial Contractors’ bread and butter. These contracts vary from high-end residential houses, apartments or small-scale commercial decking projects to refurbishments of the institutional buildings home to our nation’s capital, such as Parliament House. A significant part of that role is managing and coordinating the various trades, labourers and apprentices who form the work teams, resolving any building site issues or design queries, problem solving logistical challenges and in general making sure everyone is where they’re meant to be, doing what they should be doing. 
It’s a big responsibility but a job he clearly loves and thrives on: ‘I’ve found the challenges of keeping the bosses happy, the builders happy and getting the work done on time and to budget, while helping to make sure our workers still want to keep coming to work each day – those are the challenges I enjoy,’ Chris says.
A strong commitment to providing a positive work environment – especially for the apprentices – saw Canberra Commercial Contractors take out the honour of the 2019 HIA ACT & Southern NSW Apprentice Host of the Year award, while one of its fourth-year apprentices, Brodie Cockayne, also took home the region’s Apprentice of the Year award. 
Canberra Commercial Contractors has plenty of success stories of young people who have gone on to have successful roles upon completing their apprenticeships. ‘Jonathan Warren, our other project manager who shares my role, completed his apprenticeship with us. One of our apprentices started his own business in residential building and a lot of our leading hands, who are now running our jobs, were apprentices with us. So, they’re now working their way up to management roles within the business.’
Currently, the commercial carpentry firm has six apprentices through HIA’s apprentice scheme, five of whom are female. Chris says it’s becoming much more common to see a female apprentice onsite than it was when he completed his training, and more often than not, they’re giving the boys a run for their money. ‘The girls are keeping up and often showing up the boys a lot of the time,’ he says. ‘With girls in particular I’ve found it is a conscious decision to become a tradesperson and they have a genuine interest in the industry.’

Foreman Chris Tapp with Brodie Cockayne, 2019 HIA ACT & Southern NSW Apprentice of the Year
Chris Tapp with apprentices Rumer Williams and Brodie Cockayne
This is an important quality in a new recruit – young or mature age – when commencing an apprenticeship, and the business looks to hire those who are passionate about the industry. As an experienced host trainer Canberra Commercial Contractors ensures its apprentices are well versed in all aspects of carpentry – but to get them to reach their potential, Chris says showing an interest in everyone personally and their future within the industry goes a long way.
‘It can be common for people to take on apprentices and see them just as labourers,’ he says. ‘But if you actually talk to them about what they’re hoping to do after their apprenticeship and they see you care, then they work a lot harder for you. It can be rewarding for the business as well as being rewarding for you to see what they achieve through their apprenticeship.’ 
The commercial carpentry firm believes one of the advantages of taking on an apprentice is being able to train them up to work in a way that works for your business. ‘Sometimes you’ll get in another carpenter, and they’ll do things that might not always be in a way that you operate in your business,’ Chris says. ‘So, while it’s harder to start with an apprentice it can be worth it towards the back end of the apprenticeship.’
The Australian building industry is currently experiencing a shortage of hosts to train apprentices, with many business owners believing the effort or investment is too much for them. But Canberra Commercial Contractors has found a number of advantages of hosting apprentices through a scheme like HIA Apprentices that can overcome these issues. 
‘We believe the most beneficial thing having our apprentices through HIA is the support, especially from Ian McGown [HIA Apprentice Manager ACT],’ he says. ‘He’s always available for the apprentices and does regular reviews with them, which I think is a real positive thing that HIA does. It gives the apprentice feedback on what they need to improve on. It also gives us the opportunity, if we run out of work, to [rotate] the apprentices around so you’re not overcommitting yourself. 
‘Canberra Commercial Contractors always have someone else supporting us as a host to train or deal with other issues that may crop up with the apprentice.’
For Chris personally, he is focused on always pushing his career and is committed to encouraging this same drive and ambition when training up the next generation of workers in the building industry.
‘It’s a bit of a family trait to be career driven,’ he says, ‘and I try to encourage and show the apprentices that once they finish their apprenticeship there’s a lot of opportunity in the construction industry.
‘The world is your oyster, especially in commercial construction because there’s [progression] in management roles or you can change what you do altogether if you’ve already got your apprenticeship under your belt.’
Canberra Commercial Contractors is a firm believer that apprenticeships are a collective responsibility, and is leading by example. The business has taken on more than 100 apprentices over the past decade alone.
‘Our apprentices are the future of the industry and if we don’t put the effort in to train them, then the industry doesn’t have much hope – it’s already lacking skilled labour and good tradespeople as it is,’ Chris says.
‘I say it all the time “we’re going to create it within the business”. You’ll get the odd good tradesperson coming through but if you want to attract more capable trades, then it’s got to come internally, and that’s through apprentices.’
To find out more on how you can outsource your apprentice management with HIA Apprentices call 1300 650 620.