Young mum inspired by The Block

Sarah Peraua had never thought about becoming a builder – until she watched The Block on TV. Inspired to start a new career, Sarah is now using her skills to give back to her family and community.

Before Sarah Peraua started training to be a carpenter, the young mum from Auckland had barely swung a hammer.
 
“I wasn’t really into woodwork at school and I didn’t find it interesting. I was more into sewing,” she says. 

That all changed one evening back in 2014 when Sarah, who was out of work at the time, happened to watch The Block on television.

“As soon as I saw The Block, I thought, ‘That looks cool!’ I was really interested in seeing how everything is built, how a house comes together.”

Getting started

Sarah, a Cook Islander, looked into doing a carpentry course and heard about the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training scholarships.

“I was so happy when I got one. It gave me that extra push to make sure I finish the course. Because I’m on a scholarship I don’t want to waste that money.”

She completed her Level 4 Certificate in Applied Technology at Unitec last year – but juggling motherhood and study wasn’t easy.

“It’s been challenging and a bit hectic at times. Learning to use powertools has also been quite difficult for me.”

Family first

Pushing her forward all the time is Sarah’s desire to provide her son Ronny, aged 5, with a stable future.

“I’m pretty driven to be a role model for my son. I’m going to have early mornings and late nights, but in the end it’ll all be worth it.”

Although her parents were a bit skeptical about their daughter entering a male-dominated industry, the difference in Sarah’s confidence and mood has been obvious.

“She seems to be a lot happier now. It’s a big change really,” says dad, Ora.

Looking ahead

Sarah also dreams of using her trade to benefit others in the future. She was part of a team of trainees that volunteered their time and skills to build a retaining wall at Onehunga Primary School last October.

“It’s really nice helping others,” she says.

Fired up to work in Auckland’s booming construction sector, Sarah is now waiting to be offered a three-year apprenticeship through BCITO.

“My goal is to be a qualified builder within the next five years or so.”

And does she dream of building her own house, like on The Block?

“Probably in the next 30 years, once I’ve gained enough experience!” she says.

Fixing cars to fix his life

After getting kicked out of school at age 15, this Tongan-born Aucklander has come a long way. Here’s how Samson Tuituu turned his life around and recently used his hands-on skills to make a difference in cyclone-ravaged Fiji.

Samson Tuituu could never have dreamed he’d be building homes for cyclone-affected families in Fiji this year.

After being kicked out of school at age 15, he drifted through life, getting in and out of trouble and going from one unfulfilling job to the next.

Apart from playing Auckland-rep rugby league, Samson didn’t feel he had much to be proud of.

But at the age of 30, after one particularly bad run-in with the law, Samson decided it was time to turn his life around.

He enrolled in a Certificate in Automotive and Mechanical Engineering (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology, with his fees fully covered by Māori and Pasifika Trades Training: Auckland (MPTT: Auckland).

“I’d always enjoyed rebuilding engines and building cars from scratch. I was brought up doing that with my parents, friends and other family members,” he says.

“But I was a bum, working in factory jobs and stuff. Then I wanted to change my life completely and go back to what I got brought up doing – fixing cars and stuff.”

Switching gears

Samson started the course in February and has loved it. He’ll soon have a formal qualification to his name.

“I’m really proud of myself for achieving a goal. Even my parents are really proud,” he says.”

“I really like stripping engines apart and trying to find out what the faults are, and fix the problem.”

Samson will complete Level 4 next year and then set off on his new career path.

“I want to work as an apprentice and then move into full-time work for years, and then move into being a tutor to give back. I want to help the younger generation so they don’t go down the path I was on.”

Making a difference

So, how did this Papatoetoe resident end up doing charity work in Fiji this September?

Thanks to sponsorship from MITO, Samson’s been able to join a team of MPTT: Auckland trainees helping with the post-Cyclone Winston rebuild. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the 16-strong team is building two new homes for low-income families.

“There are a lot of reasons I wanted to come on this trip. Firstly, I’ve never been here before, and also I want to get the experience of this rebuilding in Fiji. I want to help build a house and get to meet new people and enjoy the trip as much as I can.”

He couldn’t believe it when told his trip would be fully funded by MITO.

“I just want to thank them so much for sponsoring me and giving me this opportunity to visit Fiji and help give back.”

He’s also grateful for his MPPT: Auckland scholarship.

“It’s very useful and it’s helped me a lot because I couldn’t afford $5500 for the course.”

Samson says he’s happy he went through a bad patch in his life because it’s shaped who he is now.

“It’s made me a better man and showed me the hard times. I had to walk away from a lot of my old friends, but I want to go back and help them one day.”

You gotta do what you’re passionate about

Ngapo Wehi knew he didn’t want to be stuck in an office, so he decided to learn a trade. He’s now doing practical work he loves – and encouraging others to do the same.

Ngapo Wehi has never been an inside person, so when most of his mates headed to university, he decided to try a trade instead.

“At first I was going to go to university too and study sport and recreation. But I knew studying indoors wasn’t for me. Some of my other mates were doing building, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

Paying it forward

Ngapo, whose iwi includes Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Apanui and Te Whakatōhea, studied building at Unitec and had his fees paid through a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training.

He’s now two years into an apprenticeship with Constructa Built Ltd and enjoys his work so much that he tells other young people to consider a similar path.

“I’ve been encouraging a lot of my younger cousins, and even my friends’ younger siblings, to do a trade. It’s sort of like you’re studying for a degree but you can work at the same time – that’s what I like. You don’t have a $30,000 student loan to pay off at the end of it,” he says.

“It’s pretty cool to do something I enjoy and get paid at the same time.”

Future focused

Once he’s qualified, the 22-year-old plans to keep working for his current employer for a few years, to make sure he’s got a solid grounding in his trade.

“Then I want to start a business and go out on my own. Ever since I started working, the other guys were telling me that’s the way to go. Not only can you earn good money, it’s a good challenge for yourself.”

Ngapo, who lives with his partner and their six-month-old son, says it’s important to find work you enjoy because you’ll spend a lot of time doing it.

“You gotta be doing what you’re passionate about, and be in something you can see yourself doing every day. If you’re really passionate about being outside and seeing something through from start to finish, it’s awesome being in the trades.”

Women can do it

As a young woman, Kelsie McKenna faced doubts – from herself and others – when her passion for timber led her to train as a carpenter. But despite concerns about how she’d fit into the male-dominated sector, she soon discovered a “really positive atmosphere”, great workmates and hands-on work she loves.

When Kelsie McKenna decided to become a builder, there were plenty of naysayers.

“It was hard because everyone around me was saying ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? Have you thought it through?’”

Breaking stereotypes

Being a young woman meant Kelsie faced a lot of doubts – from inside and outside – about her ability to foot it in the male-dominated trades sector. Was she strong enough? How would the men treat her?

“Those negative thoughts got to me for a while but I decided to put them aside and go for it because you only live once.”

Now more than half-way through her Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4), Kelsie wonders what all the fuss was about.

“I haven’t come across any problems at all. It’s a really positive atmosphere. The guys I work with treat me the same as all the other guys and that’s what I want. Just because I’m a female doesn’t make me special or anything.”

Kelsie, aged 19, strongly believes more women should consider a career in New Zealand’s booming trades sector.

“I think the trades is for everyone. Women can do it. I really didn’t think I could do this but I’m doing it today and I love it. I know some women think strength is an issue but you can build your strength up on the job.”

‘A passion for timber’

Kelsie’s reason for becoming a builder was pretty simple.

“I just had a passion for timber. Me and my dad have done a lot of ‘wooding’, where we go out into the forest and cut up timber and take it for firewood. I’ve always found that fun. And just doing little projects with my dad around the house, like building fences.”

Having now spent a bit of time on building sites – for example, helping build the Waiheke Sculpture Trail – Kelsie has discovered other benefits of the work.

“I love working outside and I just love working around the people in this trade, like the plumbers, electricians, and the builders. Also, I love using powertools.”

Laying the foundations

Before starting her carpentry training at Unitec in July 2016, Kelsie was living in Dunedin trying her hand at various jobs.

“I worked in a few areas like travel and tourism, then applied for the carpentry course up in Auckland thinking ‘I probably won’t get in’,” she says.

“I just had to give it a go, otherwise I’d still be in Dunedin doing what I was doing beforehand and that was boring.”

Being Māori and Samoan, Kelsie heard she might qualify for a scholarship from MPTT Auckland.

“I wasn’t even going to apply because I thought ‘I can’t get a scholarship’. It was a pretty exciting feeling and I felt very privileged because it means I’m debt free when I walk out of my course with this certificate.”

Kelsie is due to finish her Level 4 Certificate in June this year.

“After that, I want to be doing my apprenticeship. That’s the next thing. Finding an employer who will take me on.”

Don’t leave it too late like I did

Jaxon Kuvarji had a decade of experience in the automotive trade – but with no qualifications, his career options were limited. After finishing his pre-trades training in 2014 and finding an apprenticeship at Mayne Automotive, he’s now well on his way to his dream career.

Get qualified as soon as possible – that’s Jaxon Kuvarji’s message to those looking to learn a trade.

“Don’t leave it too late like I did. If you’re thinking about doing it, do it. Don’t just sit there thinking, ‘Oh, I should get onto it one day’.”

The 28-year-old, who’s soon to get his automotive qualification, has around 10 years’ experience in the industry. But he says getting that piece of paper to confirm he’s qualified will undoubtedly accelerate his career.

“I’ve got friends who are at the same stage as me now in their career, but they’re six or seven years younger than me. If I’d done my qualification when I was their age, I’d be so much more set,” he says.

“Having a qualification makes it a lot easier to get a job. If you approach a new employer and say, ‘I’m not qualified, but I’ve got 10 years’ experience’, you’re sort of starting from the bottom again. If you’ve got that piece of paper in your hand, it throws you a couple of steps up the ladder.”

Gearing up

Jaxon had always been interested in cars, and as a youngster enjoyed helping his dad do vehicles up to sell them. But he hadn’t seen it as his future career.

He looked into being a pilot and joining the Air Force. When those doors didn’t open, he began working in the automotive industry.

Jaxon, who is of Māori heritage, has now clocked more than a decade of hands-on experience, including more than three years with his current employer, Mayne Automotive.

Getting qualified

Two years ago, with a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training, Jaxon began working towards his formal qualification through Manukau Institute of Technology and he’s currently finishing up the required unit standards at Unitec.

He hopes to be qualified by the end of the year, and is looking to follow up with a management course.

“Then I can be the boss man and get off the tools a bit. As a manager, I’d be overseeing the operations in the workshop.”

Eventually, Jaxon wants to open a workshop of his own but for now he’s enjoying learning all he can at Mayne Automotive.

“It’s been really good. They look after me really well and I’ve learned a lot. When I first went there I thought I knew a lot about cars, but it’s opened up a whole new avenue.”

Family man finally living his dream

Pau Tato put his dream of being a builder on hold for 20 years to support his family. Now he’s well on his way to being qualified, and has recently helped build homes for low-income families in Fiji.

From the day he left school, Pau Tato knew he wanted to be a builder.

But he put that dream on hold for nearly 20 years to support his family – first his parents, then his own children – by doing everything from selling beds to packaging raw chicken.

“I’ve always wanted to be a builder but I hadn’t taken the leap because if I went to study, I wouldn’t have been able to provide for my family.”

Pau finally saw his chance last year after leaving his joinery job in Brisbane, where he’d been living for 11 years.

“The building industry went though a recession and that made me look at coming home to get qualified,” he says.

Building skills

The 35-year-old Samoan Kiwi returned to Auckland with his family and began a Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4) at Unitec in February.

“It’s been awesome. I’ve only got one more paper to do. My tutors have been amazing.

“I work on my days off and there are things we’re doing on site that I don’t understand but when I come to school the tutors explain it.”

Pau’s wife Nicky has a good career at Auckland Council so could help support the family, but he still wasn’t sure how he’d pay the course fees – until he learned about the MPTT Auckland scholarship.

“I really wanted the scholarship because I knew I couldn’t afford the course without it. My wife works but we wouldn’t be able to live on one income with four kids.”

Pau applied for the scholarship but didn’t expect to get it.

“When I got the letter, I was over the moon. I was thrilled. I was like, ‘That’s one less debt I have to worry about’.”

Family time

Apart from a love of building, Pau also wanted a formal tertiary education to set an example to his four children, aged between 3 and 12.

“I always used to tell my kids ‘education, education, education’. I thought if I could go back to school it would help me set the example.”

“My wife Nicky played a big part in the decision too. She was the one driving it, telling me, ‘Go back to school and do what you want’.”

Opportunity knocks

Pau got another surprise this year when he was accepted to join a team of MPTT Auckland trainees who volunteered to build cyclone-resistant homes in Fiji.

Devastated by Cyclone Winston earlier this year, many parts of Fiji are still in ruin. The MPTT team partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for two low-income families in a village near Nadi.

“When I heard about the trip I thought I had no chance. To get that letter, I was grateful and humbled,” he says.

“I’m really grateful to Marin Construction, who sponsored me to come on this trip. I’d really like to thank them for allowing me to have this experience of a lifetime.”

It’s Pau’s first time in Fiji, and he says it’s given him the chance to make some good friends from different trades.

“I’m here to do a job though,” he says.

Next year, he’ll begin an apprenticeship and a Diploma in Carpentry.

“I’m really enjoying this journey in the building industry. I’m going to chase the papers because I’m 35 and not planning to stay on the hammer too long. If I carry on with the diploma, I can maybe become a site manager one day.”

It may have taken nearly two decades, but Pau is finally living his dream.

Nurse carves out new career in carpentry

Elizabeth Cruickshank had spent 12 years as a registered nurse, but she couldn’t shake her dream of being a carpenter. The 35-year-old took the bold step of changing careers in 2014 with help from an MPTT scholarship.

Elizabeth Cruickshank’s dream of being a carpenter nagged her in the most unlikely moments.

Even while using her nursing skills to care for people in the wake of Samoa’s massive 2009 tsunami, her mind was partly elsewhere.

“A lot of the time I’d be cleaning and dressing wounds but watching the rebuild happening outside. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could be doing the rebuild instead of this’.

“I guess I’d reached burn-out; I’d worked in almost every area of nursing but I just wasn’t content.”

A new skill set

Elizabeth, who is of Samoan heritage, finally decided to take a bold step and change career in 2014, after 12 years as a registered nurse.

When she found out about the support she could get through Māori and Pasifika Trades Training, it was an added incentive to follow her dream.

“I was at the point where I was going to go back and retrain but I’d already prepared myself for the fact that I’d be living on a very limited income. So it was a massive bonus to have my fees paid for.”

Elizabeth, 35, was partly attracted to carpentry because of early memories of her father, who left for England when she was seven years old.

“He used to do renovations, and I guess there’ll always be a connection to him in that sense.”

In June she will complete Level 4 of her training at Manukau Institute of Technology, which will be followed by an apprenticeship. Her ultimate dream is to become a property developer or manager.

She enjoys the practical nature of carpentry, and working in an environment where she can make use of her skills while being trusted to do a good job.

“They treat us like employees, not like beginners. In building, you’re not going to be competent until you’ve done it. It’s completely different to nursing because instead of learning on live patients, you can learn through timber, steel and power tools. And while that can be potentially life-threatening, the danger is mostly to yourself and colleagues – which can be carefully managed.”

Elizabeth has recently moved back to live in her childhood home in Mt Roskill, where her carpentry skills are already coming in handy.

“There are a lot of things that need fixing that I wanted the practical skills to do.”

Challenging stereotypes

Working in a male-dominated industry has brought challenges, but she deals with it by getting on with the job.

“To be honest, I still come across a lot of men who would prefer me not to be there. And I don’t mind because I understand how it rattles people. I think that’s just their own limitations.”

Elizabeth makes an effort to encourage other women interested in the trades to sign up for the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme.

“There are quite a few female labourers on our site, and a lot of them are Pasifika and Māori. Whenever I talk to them, I ask if they’ve ever considered trades training and say they should give it a go, especially if they can have their fees paid. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t know they can get a scholarship.”

Best friends going forth to ‘do damage’

Easter Isara and Elizabeth Westerlund studied Furniture and Cabinet Making together, and clicked instantly. They’re now best friends and encourage each other to use their practical skills to do good in the world.

They’re both Samoan and share a passion for hands-on work, but it’s something bigger that unites two women from Auckland.

When Elizabeth Westerlund and Easter Isara began studying Furniture and Cabinet Making (Level 4) at Unitec earlier this year, they clicked instantly. 

“We’ve pretty much been best friends ever since,” says Easter, aged 25. “We do everything together – in and out of school.”

Giving back

Strongly independent and proud of their Samoan heritage, the two women quickly discovered they also share a dream of being able to help others.  

“My heart is to give to the people,” says Elizabeth, a 26-year-old devout Christian.

“I want to use my skills to equip the poor. It’s about teaching them to fish rather than giving them the fish. I want to go wherever I’m needed in the world.”

Easter sums it up slightly differently.

“We both want to make a difference so I said to her, ‘Let’s do some damage for good in the world’.”

Building their skills

Both women grew up in Samoa but moved to New Zealand as teenagers to continue their education. 

They took various work and study paths before deciding to train as furniture- and cabinet-makers this year.

“I wanted a really solid job and I wanted to be better than I was so I thought I’d go back to school,” says Easter.

“I can draw, but to know that my hands can build something bigger than a drawing is awesome. I never knew how far my hands could go as far as being delicate or rough.”

Elizabeth, who’d already trained as an artist and wants to become an architect in the future, says learning a new skillset has stretched her.  

“It’s really different from art because with art you can just express yourself and do what you want. With cabinet making you have to be precise and your observation and listening skills have to be excellent, because you’re taking instructions.”

The two friends are constantly driving each other, says Easter.

“We push each other with everything. She talks to me about her goals and I push her to be what she wants to be, and she does the same for me.”

Easter and Elizabeth are both grateful to have their fees covered by a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Auckland.

“It’s great because when I studied last time it took four years to pay off that student loan. I know how it feels to be in debt so I was grateful and so happy to get this scholarship,” says Easter.

Hands-on experience

In September this year, the two got their first chance to ‘do some damage’ together by joining an MPTT Auckland team building cyclone-resistant homes for low-income families in Fiji.

Easter discovered that working on a building site is completely different to building furniture.

“Up here we’re using bigger hammers and bigger nails and the measurements don’t have to be so precise. But I’m loving it and now I want to do a building apprenticeship next year.”

Construction company Hadyn + Rollet kindly sponsored Elizabeth’s trip to Fiji.

“Thank you for your hearts, for giving me this opportunity to come here and give to other people,” she says.

Easter’s mission to Fiji was made possible by Unitec.  

“Thank you,” she says. “I really wasn’t expecting it but for them to sponsor me, I’m grateful and I’ll try my best not to let them down.”

Door knocking pays off for ex-gym trainer

Jason Lemalu had “grown up bills” to pay and couldn’t afford to have his income drop by going back to study construction. But thanks to some persistence, he secured an apprenticeship where he can learn on the job.

Many tradies start their career with formal training through polytechnic – but that route isn’t for everyone.

Instead of spending a year or two learning the basics of building before looking for employment, Jason Lemalu needed to go straight into an apprenticeship and learn on the job.

The 28-year-old couldn’t afford to have his income drop by going back to study.

“I’d spent about eight years as a personal trainer and I loved it but I no longer saw a future in it for me. I saw multiple opportunities in the building industry and decided that’s what I was going to do,” Jason explains.

“I wanted to do the theory and training but the loss of income was a problem because I’ve got grown-up bills to pay now.”

So he began approaching employers directly to ask for an apprenticeship – a job that includes training towards his building qualification.

He got his foot in the door with a recladding company in Auckland – “just laboring, getting my head around the building industry” – but then moved to New Plymouth when his partner landed her first job out of law school at a New Plymouth firm.

“When I got there, I tidied up my CV, confirmed references then went door knocking to find work,” says Jason.

“I visited offices and rang around everywhere else and got turned down every time. But I persisted and sent them my CV anyway and a couple of the bigger companies got back to me, impressed with my approach.”

One of those bigger companies was Clelands Construction, who last December offered Jason a temporary labouring contract.

“I went and met with a few of the directors the next morning and when I came in later that afternoon to get my contract, they said they had a good feeling about me and they decided to slot me straight into an apprenticeship. I was stoked as! It’s exactly what I was after.”

Getting support

Jason’s apprenticeship is being managed by BCITO and his first year of apprenticeship fees have been covered by a pilot programme managed by MPTT Auckland.  

Kirk Sargent, MPTT Auckland project manager, says the trial programme is now full while trainees like Jason are monitored to see how they benefit from the scheme’s support.

“Jason is part of a pilot programme where trainees can access the same support as our other scholars, including mentoring and a $1000 tools grant, without needing to take time out of employment. It’s an ideal option for trainees who’ve demonstrated they’re ready to start their career directly with an employer, but may need some additional support to be successful.”

Kirk says taking the direct route – skipping a course and going straight into an apprenticeship – is not right for most trainees, but it was the most efficient way for Jason to reach his goals.

Jason, who is Samoan, qualified for the pilot programme because he’d shown he was ready for work but also faced the challenge of changing careers. That meant he’d benefit from the scheme’s extra support.

Trainees are much more likely to succeed if they have support from people who know the industry, says Kirk.

“Starting an apprenticeship has an impact on your work and home life.  Those transitions aren’t always easy. No matter what pathway a trainee takes into the trades, it’s crucial they’re supported to reduce the risks, both for the trainees and for employers.”

Hard work pays off

Now a few months into the job, Jason says he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m loving it. Clelands have got me on one of their biggest jobs and I’m looked after really well. I’m stoked.”

He strongly encourages others looking for a job to get out there and meet potential employers in person.

“Put your hand up and show employers there’s a reason to hire you even if jobs aren’t advertised. Instead of just sending in a CV and joining the long queue of people doing the same thing, go and meet them face-to-face. That’s not easy but they respect it in the end.”

MPTT Auckland hopes the pilot scheme will eventually become a fully-funded programme so more of the right trainees can benefit from its support while continuing to work, says Kirk.

“It provides an alternative, flexible pathway for the right people, reducing risks for employers and trainees. It also supports our goal of delivering a skilled workforce for employers and sustainable careers for trainees.”

Although the pilot programme is full, there are still scholarships available to help you learn a trade for free. If you’re Māori or Pasifika and aged 16-40, find out more here

Every day is different

Chris Lautua had a stable, well-paid office job – but he wanted to do hands-on, physically active work. He retrained as a sparky and is now well on the way to a career that ticks all the boxes.

As a child, Chris Lautua dreamed of working with technology.

But having been steered towards doing a communications degree by his high school teachers, it wasn’t until last year that the 29-year-old finally made the leap and started training to be an electrician

“The thought of sitting in an office just wasn’t me. I like practical work – being active, moving around, not being in the same place every day. And I always had the picture of being my own boss.”

Chris, whose mother is from Niue and his father from Samoa, signed up to train at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) with a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training.

Hands-on experience

His hard work is already paying off. With help from the team at Ara, Chris recently secured an apprenticeship at Dickson Gray Electrical in Auckland while he finishes his study part-time.

The apprenticeship will be 6000 hours, which will take around three years.

Now well on his way to becoming qualified, Chris encourages others to consider learning a trade.

“It can be hard to take that first step, and to take the risk. But if you have even the slightest idea that you might enjoy being in a trade, I’d say do find out a bit more. Ask questions about how it can suit your lifestyle.”

He points out that he was still able to work while studying full-time last year in order to pay his living costs and rent for the flat he shares with friends, because he didn’t have classes every day.

“I know a lot of people who are scared to commit to something full time, but they don’t realise full-time trades study doesn’t take up every day of the week.”

‘There’s no harm in asking’

Chris also recommends looking for work experience while training.

Last year, to give himself the best chance of eventually getting an apprenticeship, Chris found a local electrician who was willing to let him help out with a few jobs.

“If you live in New Zealand it’s quite easy to find someone who knows a tradesperson you can approach – I found one through a friend of a friend.

“There’s no harm in asking; the worst-case scenario is they’re going to say no. But you can be prepared for a no. You just gotta keep asking, and someone will say yes.”

Chris believes having that experience in the field helped him stand out during the job interview process, and he was soon offered his apprenticeship at Dickson Gray Electrical.

“So far it’s been awesome. Every day is different. The only challenge is trying to remember stuff, because it’s different every day. If you learn about something and you don’t do it straight away, you kind of forget.”

Having taken steps to achieve his childhood dream, Chris says he especially loves the problem-solving aspects of the job, and the variety that comes with working in a trade.

“Plus, out of all my friends there was a sparky that was missing – everything else was covered.”

Hospo skills honed on the marae

After catering for large groups at the marae with her family, Bridgit-Lee Morgan found her hospitality skills were already well honed. By getting qualified, the 23-year-old is turning her natural talent into an exciting career.

Growing up in a big Māori family meant Bridgit-Lee Morgan developed her hospitality skills well before she even set foot on a tertiary campus.

Catering for large groups at the marae was just part of everyday life, so it came as a surprise to learn she could make a career from it.

“When I first started studying hospitality, the tutors were telling us stuff like how to set up a restaurant in 30 minutes, and I realised I already knew it,” she says.

“Because of my experience on the marae, that sort of thing was common sense to me. I didn’t realise how much I already knew. It was cool to realise I could make good money out of it, rather than just being told what to do by my family!”

Finding her path

Bridgit, aged 23, is doing a L4 Certificate in Food and Beverage at Manukau Institute of Technology and will qualify early next year.

Despite her natural talent in hospitality, Bridgit didn’t see it as a viable career path when she was leaving school.

Instead, she went straight into a warehouse job, then studied tourism and travel, before becoming a deckhand on Te Aurere Waka, a traditional voyaging ship based out of Auckland.

“We did tours out of Auckland and I really enjoyed it. That was one of the main things I wanted to do in tourism – work outdoors.”

Bridgit’s move into formal hospitality training came by chance.

“I was supposed to go into a Diploma in Pacific Rim Tourism but they got my details mixed up and I ended up doing hospo. I was planning to do that later anyway, so I just went with it and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

She says the most attractive things about working in hospitality are the opportunities to travel and earn a decent wage.

“I’m thinking about training as a chef too because that’s related to hospitality.”

Taking opportunities

Bridgit says it was a big help having her course fees covered by a scholarship from MPTT Auckland.

“It made it much easier financially. There’s been no pressure, no worries about the money.”

As an MPTT Auckland scholar, Bridgit was invited to join a team of trades trainees who travelled to Fiji in September to build cyclone-resistant homes for low-income families.  

Helping build the two homes from scratch, in a small settlement near Nadi, gave Bridgit a massive confidence boost in terms of her DIY skills.

“That trip really opened my mind up about different options. The way you can build a house, door handles and windows, is just amazing.

“I usually just ask dad to do that kind of thing for me at home but I feel way more confident now about doing it myself.”

Bridgit’s trip to Fiji was made possible thanks to the generosity of sponsors like Bev McConnell, Dr William and Loreen Brehaut, Argus Fire Protection and Allendale Electrical.

“Thank you for the opportunity to go to Fiji and do some good work. It’s been a really good experience,” Bridgit says.

Trainee building a future for his family

Growing up in a small Pacific Island nation, Ineleo fell in love with carpentry while helping to build a new school. Now he’s building a future for his family as he earns his qualification in New Zealand.

Leaving the tiny island nation of Tokelau to train as a builder in New Zealand has come with major sacrifices for Ineleo Tefono.

The 25-year-old has not seen his wife and two young sons – nor has he tasted freshly-caught yellowfin tuna – for nearly 10 months.

But Ineleo knows he’s working towards a qualification that will set his family up for life.

“My plan is to train and then get a job as a builder and save enough money to bring my family over. Then, maybe after six years, I will have enough to go home and build my own house in Tokelau,” he says.

“By then my kids will have learned English too.”

Getting schooled

Growing up in Tokelau Fakaofo, one of the country’s three atolls, Ineleo fell in love with carpentry while helping to build a new school.

In fact, he enjoyed that job so much he named his first son after the school.

“Our baby was born on the same day we opened the school so we named him Tialeniu (which means ‘baby coconut’), the same name as the school,” he says.

“After we opened the school I realised it was a good time for me to go and do a course.”

Ineleo is now doing his Level 4 Certificate in Carpentry at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT). His course is funded by a scholarship from Māori and Pasfika Trades Training: Auckland.

Island hopping

Coming to New Zealand in February 2016 was a big eye-opener for Ineleo, whose home island is only about 3km2 and inhabited by around 300 people.

He now lives in MIT’s bustling student village and does most of his shopping at the Otara flea market on Saturdays.

Despite the change in lifestyle, he’s enjoying the chance to gain new building skills.

“Putting the trusses up is my favourite because that’s when you get to see if you’ve done everything right. If the trusses fit, you know you’ve done a good job.”

Once he’s finished Level 4 in November, Ineleo will head home for a few months, before returning to begin an apprenticeship.

Applying his skills

A highlight of his year has been visiting Fiji for two weeks in September/October as part of an MPTT: Auckland team that’s partnered with Habitat for Humanity.

The team is aiming to build two new homes for families made homeless by Cyclone Winston earlier this year.

Ineleo’s trip has been generously sponsored by heating and air-conditioning company Numecon Contracting Ltd.

“I’m so thankful to Numecon for sponsoring me and I’m happy to be part of this team – it’s like we came as a family.

“I want to help the people in Fiji and it’s good for me to share my talents and knowledge as a builder. I feel like I’m representing Tokelau Fakaofo.”

Ineleo came to New Zealand under a scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). He receives valuable mentoring and pastoral support from The Skills Organisation.

Issac Liava’a, National Manager Pasifika for The Skills Organisation, says it’s a thrill to see Ineleo using his skills to help others.

“We’re really happy that one of our MFAT scholarship awardees is part of the MPTT programme and that he has this opportunity to provide assistance in Fiji.”