OPINION: I’ve attended hundreds of networking functions over the years and have never grown comfortable with them. All of that working the room and trying to find out who will be the most impactful person to talk to.

The truth is that every networking function I’ve ever been to, I’ve latched on to the first person I was genuinely interested in talking to and then skulked home early because I’ve invariably had an early morning run scheduled the next day.

No, the truth is that the best connections I’ve made haven’t been ones made in some horrid function room over cheap wine and bad hors d’oeuvres. In fact, the best connections I’ve made have generally been made at some random backpackers while cooking in the kitchen, at a remote tramping hut, or leaned over a shovel on a community working bee.

That last example is where I met the subject (or at least the patriarch) of this tale, Roger. Roger is a dyed-in-the-wool Kiwi tradesman. He’s been a builder all his life and has that rare skill of being able to yarn extensively, while still getting high-quality work done. I met Roger when we were both taking part in a working bee at our respective sons’ nursery. Fifteen or so years later, and we’re still mates, and can still share yarns about the goings-on at school camps many years ago.

Roger however is a bit of a modest chap and, in deference to that modesty, this article isn’t about him. Rather it is about something else that is close to my heart – building legacies in business and passing down the generations a focus on quality over quantity, craft over ticky-tacky. That day when Roger and I were yarning over shovels in the sandpit, a couple of rugrats were scurrying around the place getting into mischief. Our two sons, aged four at the time, would go on to become firm friends all the way through school and into working life.

Another thing they have in common is following a familial vocational tradition. in the case of myself (he says with a prideful glow in his heart), both my sons work in the family business – the eldest for Cactus and the youngest (he who kicked around with Roger’s son) in for Albion Clothing. In the case of Roger, it is his youngest who has followed his Dad and become a builder.

Young Forbes never really found his groove at school – other than getting into mischief with his tight-knit gang of mates, he wasn’t particularly interested in school work and as soon as he was legally able to, he left school. If truth be known, he checked out long before he actually left. He kicked around a bit learning the butchery trade, and then joined his craftsman father in the family firm.

Still not even 20 years old, he managed to buy a dilapidated commercial property in rural Canterbury and has spent the last year or two, lockdowns included, painstakingly rebuilding it wall by wall and window by window.

That young lad is something our current education, with its hyper-focus on university education and jamming people into STEM subjects in the hope that they go on to become the new Sam Morgan or Rod Drury (and I say that with deference to the achievements of those two gents) needs to think about.

Not only is he a productive part of the workforce at age 19 (and has been for a few years already) but he is gainfully employed in a critical industry and keeping alive quality carpentry – something that in these days of pre-nailed frames and specialised subcontractors, isn’t common.

Maybe it’s a little bit of a chip on my shoulder talking – when I dropped out of school to embark upon an apprenticeship, I recall many of my teachers aghast in horror that I was throwing my life away. When you grow up in the fiercely middle-class suburbs of Tawa, with its over-population of churches and under diversity of skin colour, anything other than a university education (plus a mortgage, a sensible car, mowing the lawns on Sundays and 2.4 children) is seen as a failure. Regardless of the fact that real people need to service that car, look after the lawnmower and build the house over which the mortgage sits.

Forbes has just spent a couple of weeks alongside his mate (and another “reject” from the same class) doing some building work for the local iwi. He’s been madly posting pictures of his work and, even though his old man isn’t watching over him, it’s obvious he’s done a good job. Young lads like him are the backbone of our country, today and into the future – we should value their path equally as those of the tertiary educated classes.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He doesn’t like networking functions and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder that he never went to University.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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