You’re never too old to learn

Francesca Emms News, Water

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

Hugo Manson certainly doesn’t believe that’s true. At 82, Hugo is training toward a New Zealand Certificate in Wastewater Treatment (Level 4). What’s more, he’s doing it alongside his 24-year-old new colleague Stephen Meyrick.

Hugo, who previously had a long, successful career as a historian and researcher, came to Juken New Zealand Ltd (JNL), a wood solutions business, about four years ago to work as a cleaner at the company’s Wairarapa mill.

When a vacancy became available in the wastewater treatment department, Hugo was asked to step in temporarily until an apprentice for the role was found.

“I did that expecting it to be just for a short time, but to my delight, it ended up being longer than expected. Now Stephen’s come in and taken over, and I’m assisting him,” Hugo says.

Through that period Hugo became really interested in the subject of wastewater treatment and decided to take on training for the NZC in Wastewater Treatment (L4) – Multistage Processes Optional Strand.

“I didn’t need to do it, but, given my research background, I am always interested in the underlying reasons for things, and how they work. The whole area of wastewater just seems so important in the context of the environment and sustainability so I just wanted to know more about what seems to be an extremely interesting field.”

Hugo’s time handling the wastewater for JNL is coming to an end, but he has been thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to hand the reins over to Stephen, while working and training with him.

“I have been very lucky in the last few months to work with Stephen, and we’ve really hit it off.”

Stephen has been with JNL for almost seven years, initially as a process worker, before making the move to the company’s wastewater treatment plant about six months ago.

“I always wanted to get a qualification in something. Wastewater treatment hadn’t really crossed my mind before, but when the opportunity came up I thought it sounded interesting,” Stephen says.

“Then I just fell in love with the job. I love that we can turn used, dirty water into really clean water that’s good for the environment and I love the science that’s behind doing that.”

Stephen adds that he really enjoys working with Hugo and the pair help each other with their training challenges. He helps Hugo in some of the maths areas of their training. “It will always be the thing I have to work hardest at, it’s never been one of my strengths,” says Hugo. “I’ve really had to go back to basics of things like algebra.” And Hugo helps Stephen, who is dyslexic, with some of the training reading and assessments.

“Hugo keeps me on my toes with facts and knowledge. Work is never boring. Every day is a different conversation, with some friendly arguments about who is right and wrong about things,” Stephen laughs. “It would be a lot more boring doing it on my own.”

Hugo says he has also appreciated the opportunity to work closely with some of a much younger generation. “As you get older your attitude and way of doing things can solidify and harden up a bit, but there’s no chance of that with Stephen, he keeps me on my toes.

“I probably only spent three or four weeks helping him make the move into wastewater, before the tables started to turn and he was telling me how to do things!”

“It’s an opportunity to swap ideas, and tackle problem-solving not just with a colleague but someone who comes from a completely different generation, with different energy and a sharp intellect. Every day is interesting.

“It could have been a tough thing for Stephen to take on working with someone three or four times his age, but I think it’s worked out pretty well and I think the company is lucky to have Stephen coming in to take over the wastewater.”

JNL Training Coordinator Adrian Greig says having a little friendly competition between Hugo and Stephen in the training has helped keep motivation up and the company is very pleased with the way Stephen has grown into his new role.

“It’s been really good having Hugo to mentor Stephen, and seeing how well they have worked together. I think doing an apprenticeship and training is easier if you have someone, other than a supervisor, you can bounce your ideas off and ask questions. It’s worked out really well,” Adrian says.

Though his job in the wastewater plant is winding up Hugo has no plans to put his feet up. He’s happy to go back to his cleaning role with JNL. He also has plans for more research into wastewater treatment.

“I really hate the idea of not working, and it can be quite difficult to get a job so I’m very grateful to be working at JNL, which is just a wonderful place to work.

“I do want to do more research work in wastewater. I just need another 30 or 40 years to realise what I have planned.”

Check out the Seven Sharp piece here>