Succeeding in concrete construction

If you stick at it, it all pays off.

Becoming an Apprentice of the Year is an impressive feat in any trade and Concrete is no exception. Contestants must demonstrate exceptional skill and professionalism in order to win. Zen Tahana (32) works for Bartlett Concrete Placing as a placer-finisher. Zen won the 2019 Concrete NZ competition and has recently completed his apprenticeship. We caught up with Zen to talk about his journey and how teamwork has helped him build success.

When did you start working with concrete?

"I started in 2005. At the time, my brother-in-law was working for Bartlett Concrete Placing and I was doing a bit of acting at the time and my brother said “you need a job?” I started working for BCP as a placer-finisher and my first day was 14 hours long working on a thousand square slab doing the pour."

How long after that did you start your apprenticeship?

"I was mainly doing concrete for 11 years all up. I went to Australia in 2008 and I got to do boxing and steel tying. When I came back from Australia I started off with a decorative company doing driveway slabs but I wanted to do commercial-scale work. I started back with BCP in 2015 doing commercial flooring but wanted to get into building. In 2017 I changed from flooring to commercial formwork. I started my apprenticeship in Concrete Construction at the end of 2018."

What was the greatest learning (or learnings) you took from your apprenticeship?

For me, it was more calculations and math. I wasn’t that strong at school but the physical side was sweet. I started reading plans pretty early on in the apprenticeship before we started doing Rangiora primary. When we started doing the cages on site, I got to see the drawings, which helped bring the whole theory side of it together.

How would you describe your journey to receiving the Apprentice of the Year Award? What steps or challenges were involved?

"The office admin told me one day that they were putting a teammate and me forward. Writing about myself was hard because I don’t look at myself as an especially good worker. I reworded it all with the office admin and we sent it off. Then I went on holiday to Rarotonga. When I came back, there was a big meeting in the yard and I thought, “oh, someone’s done something wrong” and then they sprung it on me.

I just felt so proud of myself. It was weird cos I don’t like being the centre of attention, but I just felt like I had achieved something big."

Have you had any big influencers in your time?

"Mainly the original team that I worked with under Mark Bartlett. They worked really hard, and the guy who first trained me pushed me, which was worth it. I learned that if I keep sticking at it, it all pays off.

Before I moved to Australia, I didn’t really know how to screed properly. When I worked in Canberra, there was this guy who screeded right past me and said “too slow”, and that was when I decided to really push it."

Has your day to day work changed much now that you are qualified?

"Sort of. I get more responsibilities with drawing. Before, it was just about asking more questions. I like to try and put things on myself, but I’ve learned that you need help and a team to get it."

What is the best part of working in Concrete Construction as a trade?

"The atmosphere with the team when you’re going hard at it. It’s different to house building, whereas in concrete, you’re focused on one thing, and you can just power through the work with the team. I’m mainly doing formwork now, but sometimes I help out the boys with the placing and finishing. "

If you could give advice to a job seeker thinking about getting into Concrete, what would it be?

"Try and go hard. Keep up with your team because they’ll respect you for that. Give it a good crack because it is an awesome job, and once you build your confidence up, it’s even better. Being able to look back on a massive floor and say, “I did that”.

Make sure you clean your legs when you got concrete on them because concrete burn hurts."

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