Furniture manufacturer flourishes with a strong apprentice workforce

September 12, 2022

When faced with the challenge of finding more skilled tradespeople, a Lower Hutt business has found a recipe for success. A large team of apprentices are delivering results across the business - whilst boosting the digital skills of their ageing workforce.

Ferndale Furniture is a cabinet, joinery, and furniture manufacturing business that employs up to 45 staff. They pride themselves on providing high-quality end-to-end solutions for clients, with most of their work being commercial projects.

Around three years ago, business owner Grant MacDonald committed to bringing new talent into their business and to train them. Aware that they had no apprentices in training at the time and it was getting harder to secure tradespeople of the standard and calibre that they wanted, it was time to do things differently.

The company now has nine apprentices onboard working towards a National Certificate in Furniture, Level 3 and 4 qualifications. The majority are in their twenties, with one apprentice in his forties.

Grant mentions he was feeling slightly apprehensive as the group of learners grew larger, but the benefits to the business have been enlightening.

“When you get young people engaged in the future of your business and owning the outcomes of the projects we undertake, it changes the dynamics.

“We have noticed a positive change — there is a sense of cooperation which has influenced the whole team culture,” says Grant.

The apprentice programme was spearheaded by workshop foreman Dave Hawley, who has been with the company for 13 years and oversees the workshop floor. Dave is a strong believer in hiring on attitude, as you can train ability — but not attitude. He sees merit in having a larger group of apprentices training together.

“They have their own mini culture — we see them learn from each other at different stages of their apprenticeships.”

As the group of apprentices grew, any concerns they had about the dependency on their other tradesmen were dispelled. Dave explains how the group motivates and supports each other.

“We have dedicated mature tradespeople who take a great deal of pride in the work they do and genuinely want to pass their skills on.”

Dave praises the support that industry training partner Competenz provides. The process to set up new apprentices is easy, and Dave believes the training is a good balance of theory and practice for the learners. Supporting the learners and keeping them on schedule through their apprenticeship is Competenz training advisor Todd Billing.

Todd commends Ferndale Furniture’s unified approach to training.

“There is a real culture of respect for each other in the company and I see that in the training.

“Everyone takes ownership for it, and it shows with the level of engagement we see in the learners,” says Todd.

Apprentice Zac Casidy joined Ferndale Furniture five years ago and at age 26 now is well on his way to saving a deposit for his first home. For Zac, being able to earn while he is learning is a huge advantage of the apprenticeship, along with having experienced people to guide him through the practical components of the job.

“You can read instructions on how to operate power tools and machinery, but personally for me having experienced people watch and guide you is essential,” says Zac.

Zac enjoys the satisfaction of his job, seeing the raw material evolve into a product from a plan, and then installed. He plans to stay on at the company when he finishes his apprenticeship and is keen to advance his career there.

Zac particularly enjoys the team culture at Ferndale Furniture and comments on how well they are looked after. He recalls how for one drawing module Dave ran a competition for the apprentices where they had to all build their drawing board and set square. Instead of a cash prize being awarded to one apprentice, they all received it which was an unexpected bonus.

Supportive of learning incentives and team-building exercises, business owner Grant also touches on the importance to him of having a holistic approach to workplace wellness. Given how much time we spend at work, Grant was keen to build on that and support staff in other ways. The company provides a continental breakfast to staff every day, along with a team lunch on Mondays. The apprentices particularly appreciate this, with Zac commenting how he saves on his weekly grocery bill which is helpful when saving for his first home deposit.

Fostering a good culture doesn’t stop there — the company will often hand out ice blocks on hot summer afternoons, and all staff receive a morning tea shout for their birthdays. In return, the company recognises they have a dedicated and valued team who consistently delivers quality work.

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