Moving on up

By - , Build 182

Clément Richer moved to a new country, took up a new career and won a top industry award for apprentice carpenters. Now, his plans include furthering his qualifications and setting up his own business.

Clement Richer

Q. What is your background? I understand you were born in France – what brought you to New Zealand and your work as a carpentry apprentice?

I was born in France and did all my schooling in the French public school system. I left school at 19 before completing the Baccalaureate (France’s national secondary-school diploma) and joined the workforce. After many unfulfilling jobs, I took over a small pizzeria and spent 6 years working hard and learning the ropes of running a small business.

When I turned 26, I decided to travel to learn about different cultures. After a few months, I ended up in New Zealand where I met my Canadian wife, and we decided to make this country our home. I continued working in hospitality around central Auckland but, after a few years, decided to learn a trade.

Choosing carpentry was easy as I was always interested in this trade, so I enrolled in the ITAB program at Unitec Institute of Technology. One of the regular customers at the restaurant where I worked was a carpenter, and he offered me work with him for a few months for which I am very grateful.

He gave me an opportunity to change careers, to learn a profession that he enjoyed and to impart that passion for building. Beginning an apprenticeship at 32 years old was a challenge for me as my past schooling experience was not a success and English is my second language.

After my first year and with my Certificate of Applied Technology under my belt, I found an apprenticeship in a construction company specialising in residential renovations and alterations. I continued studying and obtained a Diploma in Applied Technology in Carpentry, and today, I am a qualified carpenter.

Q. What did winning the Certified Builders Carpentry Apprentice challenge mean to you?

When I entered the New Zealand Certified Builders Apprentice Challenge in 2016, I was in the third year of my apprenticeship and was feeling more confident on site as I was working with a team of competent builders. However, I did not have the opportunity to compare my skills and knowledge so I signed up to test myself and to see how I would perform outside of my comfort zone.

After coming in a joint first in the Auckland region, I went on to participate in the national challenge alongside the other regional winners. I was just happy to reach that stage, so you can imagine my surprise – and joy – when I won Apprentice Builder of the Year for 2016.

Winning the competition validated the decisions I made a few years earlier, and it made me feel a sense of belonging in my new profession.

Q. What are the differences between the building industry in France and New Zealand?

As most of my working life in France was spent making pizzas, most of my building knowledge comes from my experience in New Zealand. However, living in both countries gives me some insight on differences regarding styles and methods. In France, like many Western European countries, the use of stone and, more recently, concrete blocks is predominant in building. For most French people, the idea of timber-framed houses conjures up images of simple cottages in the forest.

A higher population density and the geographical situation of France has shaped its building industry. Apartment buildings are popular in metropolitan areas, and new subdivisions, like we see around the wider Auckland areas, are widespread in the suburbs of major cities.

However, with the desire to build more sustainably, timber is appearing as an alternative to concrete, and in the last 20 years, building companies specialising in timber-framed building have been flourishing.

Q. What are your aspirations as a builder?

I became a qualified carpenter after a 4-year apprenticeship and am currently working as an independent contractor doing mostly renovations and extensions. I find these kinds of projects interesting due to their complexity. I see myself following the same path for the next 5 years, continuing to learn along the way.

Also, I envisage going back to study, possibly a Bachelor of Construction, before starting my own building company. I am interested in innovations that make buildings more comfortable and energy efficient and believe that we could reduce material waste by thinking about appropriate building processes when designing our houses. When the time comes for me to run my own construction business, I want to be able to make a difference and to address these issues.

Q. What do you most enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the fact that I can create something that will stand for years. I also appreciate both the physical and mental aspects of this job. Yes, I work with my hands, but I have to constantly think through every task before starting. Being well prepared, organised,efficient and collegial is important to the way I work.

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Clement Richer