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'I enjoyed the process of creating something and working with my hands. I knew it was what I wanted to do straight away,’ says Jethro Urwin, owner of APEX WA Carpentry Solutions in Perth.
Ever since the Welsh native began work as an apprentice carpenter at the formative age of 15, his drive and passion for the construction industry has only deepened over his 20-year career.
Jethro credits his positive initiation on building sites to his first employer, Mark and his brother Johnny, who, like the majority of the Welsh construction sector, operated a small business focused on renovations and repairs. Wales is home to some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, with varied building fabrics and designs, and while Jethro says he worked on the occasional new house, his training was traditional and thorough, rooted in retrofits and additions.
‘I got a very all-round experience, I was definitely fortunate,’ he says. ‘I received a good overview of construction, including concreting and brickwork. As the apprentice, I had to do the fetching and carrying, of course, but I was always learning something. I didn’t feel like just a cheap labourer.’
Under his employer’s patient guidance, Jethro escaped this common gripe experienced by other apprentices. Instead, upon completion he came away with a broad technical aptitude and strong work ethic that would see him confidently seek adventure, new work experiences (and a warmer climate!) on the other side of the world.
‘I arrived in 2012 in Western Australia and started working as a subcontractor for different builders and carpenters,’ says Jethro, who later met his wife of five years, Isabella and settled near the beach in Perth. ‘I also did some labouring in other trades to get experience in the Australian construction industry. When I felt I was ready, I went out on my own and started my own team.’
By this stage, Jethro knew about the HIA Apprentices scheme and eagerly signed up as a HIA member and host trainer. Over the past eight years, he has taken on seven apprentices – two are now qualified, while the others are in varying stages of completing their trades.
‘I liked the fact that if I ran out of work, HIA would help find our apprentices other placements to continue their training in the downtime,’ Jethro explains. ‘Payroll, leave and TAFE is organised, which means I get more time to spend working and teaching onsite instead of in the office. It’s been a successful relationship from the start.’
While Jethro has felt supported by the HIA Apprentices team in the management of his business’s apprentices, it’s his mentorship and focus on their training and general wellbeing that has seen them thrive under his leadership. Jethro inspires his apprentices to work to the best of their ability and maintain the high standards of the business.
Just ask Zinzan Gregson. He completed his apprenticeship with APEX, learning roof carpentry, timber framing, truss installation and cladding on many of the new home build sites of WA’s biggest builders. He’s now a qualified carpenter, acquiring the skillset to potentially run a small business one day and is undertaking a building diploma through HIA Training at his boss’s urging.
‘Jethro always encourages us,’ Zinzan says. ‘He takes great interest in our lives. He often tells us it’s important to spend time with family and friends rather than doing overtime.’
As a host, Jethro reflects back on his own apprenticeship experience and tries to emulate the example set by his old employer. ‘I was looked after,’ he says. ‘I feel like I have some responsibility to do the same, to ensure my team are comfortable coming to me if there’s anything they want to talk about. That was something my former boss always did. I want to make sure the boys are doing well in all aspects of their lives.’
This commitment to the wholistic training and development of his apprentices is why Jethro was presented with the 2023 HIA Australian Apprentice Host Trainer award in May. The national judges also recognised that APEX WA Carpentry Solutions puts a strong emphasis on safety management, knowledge of building techniques and keeping up to date with industry changes.
Jethro was surprised and excited after hearing he was the award recipient. ‘For me personally, it feels like the hard work I put into apprentices is worthwhile,’ he says. ‘To go from teaching someone who has little experience onsite to watching them develop into a competent tradesperson is one of the things that makes me the proudest.’
While it’s evident that Jethro enjoys being a host trainer, he says it’s not without its challenges, especially in the current building climate. ‘Scheduling is an ongoing challenge – it’s a bit manic at the moment as there’s a lot of activity in Perth,’ he says. ‘I have to ensure we’ve always got work lined up and everyone is completing tasks safely and in the right way, and that they’re learning and progressing. Then, there’s the external pressure regarding when you can start or finish a job. It’s a lot to coordinate!’
But what’s also clear is that Jethro wouldn’t have it any other way. Sunny Western Australia is home now, and the building industry is where the action is. When time permits, he loves to surf or explore Australia’s great outdoors with Isabella and their dog, Charlie. Working in construction can offer a great lifestyle, he says; and for the sake of trade shortages in the industry, he hopes it gains more positive attention as a rewarding career path.
‘I’ll tell anyone that an apprenticeship is the start of a good career in the construction industry – you can go in any direction you want. It’s not a fallback plan if you didn’t get into university. It should be something young people aim towards.’
And for anyone considering a trade apprenticeship, Australia’s Apprentice Host Trainer of the Year has some sage advice: ‘Turn up early every day, work hard, keep on asking questions and you surely will have a big future in the industry.’
HIA Apprentices has been managing building apprentices for Australian construction businesses for more than 30 years. We find the right fit for your business, taking care of the recruitment, wages, administration and other employment-related tasks of your apprentice. As a HIA host trainer, we provide additional support, making it easy to integrate an apprentice into your team. Get in touch with HIA Apprentices today to find out more.
First published on 2 August 2023