Apprentice ‘saves’ business after boss is in crash
WAKING up in a hospital bed with a shattered leg after falling asleep at the wheel, Greg Small took some time to realise the full ramifications.
His wife and children would be devastated, and he didn't know how they would survive financially, since he'd be laid up for a while.
His business Greg Small Electrical was a two-man operation, and the second man was an apprentice. They worked together on-site every day.
Following a single-vehicle crash on Bald Knob Rd on July 13 last year, he would likely have to sell his family home.
Luckily for Greg, his fourth-year apprentice Sam Marshall was no ordinary 21-year-old, and he "stepped up" far beyond his pay grade.
Sam was recently awarded the Pride of Workmanship Award by the Rotary Club Caloundra Pacific, for his remarkable feat in the second half of last year.
Over a six-week period while Greg recovered, Sam took over operations of the business, working long hours and organising his own workload.
"I had a contractor mate check in on him, but he worked very hard," Greg said.
In this period, the company had a daunting number of large jobs lined up.
Sam installed lighting in a strawberry farm packing shed, completed a new three-phase underground mains system to a house and shed, and did an electrical fit-out for a 25m-long new shed.
"He completed an office demolition and re-fit. He completed power supply to sorting benches in a packing shed," Greg said.
"On inspecting the work that Sam had done while I was not able to be by his side, I was almost brought to tears.
"Even though he was under immense time pressure, he still took great care to plan the work and the finished product would make anyone proud."
Greg did what he could for the business while recuperating, but he was aware of the huge drain on the young apprentice, who was used to being able to have help whenever he needed it.
"This must've been very daunting for Sam, but never once did he complain," Greg said.
"I can, without a doubt, say that without Sam, we would not have made it through this period unscathed. We are rebuilding now, but we would've had to sell the house to meet our bills if Sam hadn't have stepped up."
Sam said he remembered the moment he found out about Greg's accident. He was having lunch with his girlfriend at the beach in Caloundra.
"It put a dampener on the whole afternoon, to be honest," he said. "I hoped he was all right … and I wondered if we were still working and what I was going to do, and how I was going to cope. I didn't have much confidence back then."
Greg said Sam had been a unique employee since the first day he turned up.
He was shy by nature, clever and attentive.
"Every time I gave Sam responsibility, starting with small things, he impressed," Greg said.
"We discussed the results of jobs and he learned better ways to do things. Tasks are always carried out by Sam, the way I would do them.
"This to me is important as I do not lose sleep at night wondering whether a customer is going to contact me with a complaint."
Greg said it was rare to find a young man who spent time organising himself for his work day, but he noticed Sam turned up with a packed lunch most days.
Sam agreed it had been a daunting experience but felt he was better for it.
"I was working alone … but I think being put under pressure really ended up being for the best," he said.
"It taught me more confidence."
Sam had valued having experienced electricians on site for advice and help, but he soon realised he did know what to do in most circumstances.
He also felt he didn't have a choice but to step up, he said. He knew how many big jobs were lined up, so he dived in and hoped for the best.
"I feel like I would know more than an average fourth-year apprentice, because of that," he said.
He said taking the lead didn't come naturally. "I've always been kind of … not shy, but … well, yeah - shy," he said, laughing at the contradiction.
"But being forced into situations like that is for the better."
His girlfriend Julia had been supportive, he said, and helped him keep his morale up.
"It was late days … but we were busy enough that I didn't feel lonely," he said.
The company mainly had residential clients, but also agricultural and industrial customers.
When speaking with Weekend Magazine, Sam was helping a strawberry farmer get pumps ready and do other preparation for the coming harvest.
"When I first started the apprenticeship, it wasn't like I wanted to be a sparky," Sam said.
"It was just something I can always fall on.
"But I've learned to actually really like it - I find it pretty interesting compared to most other trades.
"There's a lot more theory to it than people think, and you are always learning stuff."
He said it was appalling how many houses and businesses were wired badly. Every week he saw something that made his "gut wrench", he said.
"Doing my job well, I can save lives," he said. "You see dodgy stuff and you fix it, and it makes you feel better."
Rotary Club Caloundra Pacific president Evelyn McCorkell said it had been a joy to find out about Sam and Greg's journey together.
"The awards show encouragement towards young people who are doing something that's noteworthy," she said.
Three other apprentices who were "doing a great job" were recognised with a Pride of Workmanship Award at the ceremony on February 20: carpenters Jack Witek and Peter Kite and plasterer Killara Taylor.
To find out more, search Rotary Club Caloundra Pacific on Facebook.