Event celebrates apprentices

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Pankhurst Sawmill business owner and operator Rodney Lonneker at the TradeQual recognition dinner.

THIS year’s annual TradeQual recognition dinner was a sell-out, with 300 people attending the event at the Ascot Park Hotel last Friday.

Guests included 72 graduates whose hard work and success was celebrated at the occasion.

The event recognised the achievements of apprentices from various trades who completed apprenticeships and trade qualifications between September 1, 2016, and August 31 this year.

The guest speaker was Pankhurst Sawmill owner and operator Rodney Lonneker.

Mr Lonneker and his wife Amanda have grown their business, near Riverton, to supply timber for building and landscaping products to clients throughout the South Island.

“We’re producing the most macrocarpa, more than any other sawmill in New Zealand. To have the monopoly of that market is pretty good for our business.”

The mill cut about 800 tonnes of macrocarpa a month and the difference in productivity was like “chalk and cheese” since procedures had been tightened, he said.

High productivity also depended on a happy workforce.

“A happy workforce is a productive workforce.”

Mr Lonneker started working at the sawmill he now owns in 2003, worked hard for six months and was put forward for an apprenticeship.

“I liked it so much I did another one. And another one, and another one.”

As an apprentice, through 10 years of study he gained timber yarding, timber machining, timber grading and sawmilling apprenticeships and built his way up from mill hand to head machinist, to operations manger and now owner-operator, he said.

“Anything’s possible through hard work, dedication and commitment.”

Manufacturing Association Trainee of the Year.

Mr Lonneker took over the mill from the Pankhurst family in April 2015 and today the company is one of Riverton’s largest employers with 28 staff.

In May, Mr Lonneker won the Wood Processing Excellence award at the Southern Wood Councils Awards at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

TradeQual event organiser and Southern Directions managing director and career consultant Dave McKissock said Mr Lonneker received a standing ovation because his story and speech were so powerful.

“He would be an inspiration to all Southlanders. His achievements show nothing’s impossible.”

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