“I grew up helping my old man who was a stonemason when I was at school. I wasn’t too good at school so I just decided I would rather help my father than stay. The Lavas’s called me because they were looking for some guys with some experience.”
Auckland Stonemasons was established in 1927 and is still a family business. Len and James Lavas are the third generation to run the business which prides itself on the scope and quality of work. Dave said, “Auckland Stonemasons are really good to work for, really reliable; I think they are the best of the best. We do cool work; we did the Whitianga waterway, 4km of seawalls which will be there forever. I like doing the fancy little jobs but I would rather do the big jobs.”
“When I started with Len I was the youngest but now a few of my brothers are here, I have bought them into the stonemason’s life and they love it. We reckon it is the best job ever," says Dave. You don’t get a better recommendation for a career in Stonemasonry than Dave’s. He liked it so much he encouraged his family to work in the trade as well.
“When I drive past the jobs we have done before I’m happy with the outcome, very happy. I like showing the boys the work we have done. I get to go to places I never thought I would get a chance to go. We have jobs on top of mountains, some sites along Beachlands and places like that. We have work on a cliff site that after a couple of months looked like a castle!”
Dave has no shortage of pride in his work and understands after working for the Lavas’s that it is the end result that matters. "Some of the profiles need you to have a good eye, you can’t bend a profile. Somedays it doesn’t look right so you pull it down and start again and that’s okay. You want it to look good, you want people to come and look at it and be shocked at how good it is,” said Dave.
Dave worked as a Stonemason for a number of years before he started his qualification. Getting a qualification can affect more than just the apprentice and his workmates. “It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my wife, she was really proud of me. She was always pushing me to try another job but now she knows that I was built to be a stonemason," said Dave. He continued, “I was worried when Len said I should get qualified. I’m not really confident about stuff. I had to push myself, but I knew I was going to have to deal with this stuff and talk to people. I’m trying my best.” Craig Finlayson, Dave’s BCITO Training Advisor agrees - “Look at Dave now he has no trouble talking to anyone, getting the qualification has really built his confidence. “
Craig has helped Auckland Stonemasons put a number of their employees through the qualification, he says “you see these guys when we first sign them into qualification; they are nervous and unsure how it is going to go. After a few months, they understand that getting a trade qualification through the BCITO is not like being at school. By the end of the qualification, they are so proud to receive recognition for the skills that they have. This means something to them. When we present the trade qualifications we can see that the other guys want to step up. It creates a good atmosphere in a company as everyone is trying to learn from each other. I really enjoy working with the Stonemasons as they have real pride in their work, as they should.”
Auckland Stonemasons have some fun as well which is essential when they work so hard. Dave says, “We are having a fishing competition. Len always says he wins but at the end of the day he gets a feed and I get a feed so everyone is happy. Len's good he looks after his boys. Both Len and Jim are good bosses. We get looked after and everyone is happy.”
If an employer is considering putting an employee through the qualification but is unsure if it would make much difference because that employee has been working in the trade for a while, the following statement from Dave reinforces the value of gaining a qualification, “Getting qualified pushed me harder. It is a good feeling to carry on working every day and knowing that you are getting qualified or that you are a qualified stonemason.”
When Dave was asked about his future, he said, “I don’t want to go out on my own. I’m happy at Auckland Stonemasons and they are good to me. Why would I want to leave?”
Female trade apprentices are loving their career choice, but few considered a career in building or construction while they were at school, research shows.
Brad Gemmell qualified as a bricklayer at 21 years of age and hopped on a plane to London, ready to put his skills to the test. He returned to New Zealand a few years later and began his own business, Brad the Brickie Ltd in Wanaka.