Leon Henriksen

Carpentry is useful when building a house. But for Leon Henriksen, it’s a way to build a life.

Leon is a mature-aged apprentice, beginning in the middle of this year. It’s a career move that took some time, as well as some distance, to realise.

“I grew up on a farm, always doing physical stuff,” Leon says. “I come from a small town in New Zealand called Thames, an hour east of Auckland. There’s only about 8000 people there, so there’s not much going on. My mates there are still doing the things they were doing in high school,” he says.

Leon always knew he wanted to get out. “Me and my mate made a plan when we were 16, that once we got to a certain age we’d just drop everything and go,” he says. “So we just left. We moved up to Hamilton Island, lived there for about nine months, and then we were like, ‘well, this isn’t really ‘real’ either. Let’s go to the mainland.”

A mate in Sydney invited them to move there to play rugby, so that’s what Leon did. He worked in sales for a couple of years, before realising it wasn’t his thing.

“I did labouring for about four years after that, and I felt, if I’m doing labouring, I might as well get a trade out of it,” he says. “Once you get a trade, you can work anywhere in the world. I thought building would be the best thing, as it covers everything.”

Leon had worked with Virtue Projects carpenter Kyle Linton while labouring. “I said to him, ‘the next job you go to, if they got an apprenticeship, let me know.’”

That job was with Virtue Projects, who were looking to take on a new apprentice at the time. “I called Dave up, and he said to send through my CV. So I did, and here I am.”

Leon says that that the satisfaction of gaining new knowledge, skills and experience outweighs any short term financial costs of moving from labouring to an apprenticeship.

“I honestly just love the experience of learning everything,” he says. “With labouring, you’re doing a bunch of different stuff, and that’s why I liked it. But when you are doing carpentry, you’ve got to have the knowledge and the skills to be able to do that stuff. Labouring’s good money, but I’d rather have that experience, and that knowledge, to be able to do things technically.”

Working with Dave and Mick at Virtue Projects has been a positive experience so far, he says.

“It’s good working for a boss who appreciates the work you do,” Leon says. “I feel like they understand. They’re not always on your back, they let you kind of work it out for yourself, and if you need help, they are always there when you call them.”

Even the TAFE component of the qualification, which many apprentices find onerous, is no obstacle for Leon.

“You know what, it’s actually quite simple, going back at this age… I felt when I was younger, the mind just wasn’t really in it, because you’re just about, ‘I’m at this age, I can go party, don’t worry about working and everything like that, let’s just get by.”

“But I’m at a certain age… I’m now married. We just want to set up a family, and so I want to set up my trade first. I want to have that knowledge, and maybe be able to build my family a house one day.”

“That’s what I want in the end, essentially. Just to help out my family.”