10 things I learned as a Tradie

I completed my apprenticeship as a Marine Cabinetmaker (interiors for boats) at 21. My dad was a builder, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I always paid attention to details so it was the obvious option. I never much wanted to be a tradie, but now I’m grateful that I completed my time. It’s meant I was always able to find work, no matter where I am. In the last 10+ years, even while I was at university, I worked in several different areas of the trade. From interiors for multi-million dollar boats to building commercial to residential buildings, to kitchens and furniture. I’ve been a tradie in NZ, Australia and the UK and thought I’d share a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. 

1. If you have a weird feeling about something pay attention to it

How many times have you been on the saw and thought “mmmm I shouldn’t do this” done it anyway and made a mess of it, or yourself? I’ve literally seen people lose parts of their anatomy from ignoring this. If a niggly feeling says to approach something differently, whether it be the tool you use or the PPE (personal protective equipment) you’re wearing, maybe even tying up your hair or rolling up your sleeves, pay attention.

2. Keep a tidy work vehicle tidy

For some reason having a messy work truck is seen as something to be proud of amongst tradies. All it does is shows that you don’t take care of your possessions. It’s a valuable item, and just because it's a tool, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve care. From a holistic perspective, it shows you aren’t grateful for what you have. From a health perspective, tidiness is also proven to help lower stress as it reduces the clutter of the mind.
As a passenger, it's also nice to ride around in a clean vehicle. There is nothing worse than that stale odour of Redbull, soured chocolate milk and vinegary Maccas wrappers. And finally, maybe most importantly, if you’re picking up a date and they see the state of your truck, they are probably going to wonder if you have the same disregard for your personal hygiene and that of your bedroom…

3. Kick it in the guts

As a tradie there will always be something different to do, that’s one of the attractions. No one day is the same. Sometimes those jobs are shit, and we avoid them like the plague. The thing is, they will always be there and you’ll have to do them eventually. Get it done as soon as you can. I always aim to get them out of the way just before lunch, so I can wash up, or before the end of the day, so I don’t start the day off with a job I don’t want to do. This also goes for anyone currently doing their apprenticeship. Hit it hard, get it done as fast as you can, even if it's just to get that pay increase.

4. Music sets the mood

This is something I’ve only started doing recently. I used to get in my car in the morning and wind up the drum and bass or listen to the latest episode of Joe Rogan. Now I’ve taken to listening to chill music to ease me into the morning and allow my mind time to swing into gear. 
You’ll also notice the effect music can have on a job site too. The right music can get people smiling and joking, and the wrong can just fuel frustration when things don’t go well or make the day drag. On the topic of easing the mind, I also meditate first thing each morning before work. You’d be surprised by the effect it can have later in the day. On the days I do, it takes far more for me to react to a situation.

5. A tradesman is measured by their mistakes

I have made an unfathomable number of mistakes in my time, from gluing doors shut on boats at the marina to drilling through finished cabinetry to cutting beams too short, but none of it matters if you are able to repair it. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you react and your ability to own it and fix it that is a true measure of your ability. From personal experience, if you do make a mistake, stop. Don’t rush to fix it unless it's obvious and easy, the number of times I made something way worse by not pausing, stepping back and evaluating the situation, or asking advice doesn’t bear thinking about.

6. If you f#ck up, own it

This was probably the first lesson I learned during my apprenticeship. And I learned the hard way, from a projectile piece of timber. Your boss/foreman/site manager is far less likely to fly off the rails if you own a mistake as soon as possible. They may still spit the dummy, but they are far less likely to lose it than if someone else tells them that they work it out themselves. It also shows you have guts, they may not thank you at the time, but they will probably respect you a lot more in the long run. It also feels good to stand up and take control of the situation knowing the cards are stacked against you.

7. Be nice to the young fellas

For me, this is probably one of the most important. They are the future of the trade. Just because you may have been treated like shit as an apprentice doesn’t make it right to pay it forward. It’s so much more enjoyable to chat with them about life, see what’s important to them, and teach them tips and tricks you’ve learned during your time. It also encourages them and makes them enjoy what they’re doing a little more. This benefits you too, as they are more likely to want to help.

This also extends to the shit jobs that you don’t want to do. There is nothing I respect more than someone further up the chain mucking in on the jobs no one wants to do. That’s a sign of a true leader.

8. Measure twice, cut once is an understatement

Measure as many times as you need to be certain you’re cutting to the right dimension. I’ve even driven back to the site to check something once more if I’m unsure. It's usually cheaper than replacing the, now useless, material.

9: Don’t be a stranger

Plain and simple really. Just a quick “g’day” is all it takes to break the ice. Tradies get a bit territorial about their sites, so it's a sign of respect to acknowledge them as you enter their space, plus it’s just a nice thing to do.

10. Look after your body

Don’t be a hero, if it’s heavy, ask for help. Eat well. Drink plenty of water. Do some sort of exercise outside of your physical job. For me, that’s yoga, walking and stretching. Take a look around, most of those old boys on site didn’t and now they are paying for it. I think the industry has improved a lot since I started. Tradies are gyming, choosing sushi over pies, water over V, putting down the ciggies and taking better care of themselves. When I first started, wearing PPE was seen as something you did if you were “soft”. Thankfully that’s a thing of the past. 

I’m sure I could go on, but this will do for now.
Let me know if you have any others to add

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