No place like home

Ben Oge
A less conventional way to clock up work experience in the trades? Organise a project yourself. Ben Oge, a construction trainee at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, did just that after witnessing the plight of a single-parent family living in a run-down home in Samoa.

It’s been a full-on year for Ben Oge. Not only did he start learning a trade, he also spearheaded an initiative to restore the home of a family in need in Samoa.

The 39-year-old visited the island of Upolu early this year and felt moved to help improve the housing conditions.

“I got back home and thought, let’s stop talking about it, let’s get something happening.”

With help from friends, whānau, and Christian-based fellowship My Friendship House, Ben organised a group of 14 people to renovate and restore the home of a single mother and her four children in Upolu.

“There’s a personal connection. The house used to belong to my grandmother who has since passed on. I thought I could at least do what I can to help out.”
Community Project in Samoa
Community Project

Connecting with the homeland

The initiative, called Stewards of the Homeland, is something Ben wants to see grow. He’s already planning a second project for early 2018.

“I want to strike while the iron’s hot and keep the momentum going. Then the idea is to set up a charity to help other families in need and maybe even link trade apprenticeships to other opportunities around the Pacific.”

At its heart, Stewards of the Homeland is about not only serving families in need, but also linking New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders to their motherland to strengthen their heritage and sense of identity.

“People on our team are still buzzing about it,” says Ben. “Some of them had never been to the islands before. It’s just a hugely rewarding experience.”

“They all wanted to go over and give to others, and what they received in return was far more than they’d expected.”

community project

Community Project in Samoa

Community Project in Samoa


Taking opportunities

Ben, a New Zealand-born Samoan whose mother is from Samauga, Savai’i and his father from Lepea, Upolu, had spent years working as a designer before deciding to add construction skills to his toolbelt.

“Building’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to try out, and I thought ‘why not?’ – especially with the way construction is booming at the moment. There’s no shortage of opportunities.”

He began training at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in March and is enjoying building his skills.

“It’s been good; there’s lots to learn. I feel much more confident now, knowing what the process is in building a house. There’s been a good balance between the textbook stuff and the practical, hands-on stuff where you actually get on the tools.”

Ben, who still finds time to freelance as a designer, was grateful to get an MPTT scholarship to cover his course fees.

“It was a bit of a no-brainer really – it’s such an awesome opportunity. When I think about the trades, there are so many great opportunities. You’ve just got to grab them with both hands and go for it.”

Moving forward

With much of the first Stewards of the Homeland trip being self-funded by the team, Ben is working on ways to raise money for the group’s next mission.

He’s created a clothing brand called Parcel 59 – named after the plot of land where the first project took place – to help fund the initiative. The proceeds will fund Stewards of the Homeland’s future projects.

Once the dates of the next project have been confirmed, Ben will turn his attention towards promoting the cause.

“I’m just trying to get my head around it again. It’s about trying to balance the project with school, work and other commitments.”

For now, Ben and his team are happy to have achieved their initial goal.

“The idea of Stewards of the Homeland is to offer practical help in one home, one village – until we get to the stage where we can do a lot more,” says Ben. “Everything starts from home.”

Wired for Success

Getting an apprenticeship – not just a job – is the key to a rewarding career in the trades. That’s the view of electrical trainee Ioane McNiell-Temese, who began his apprenticeship at Coll Electrical in August this year.

“I thought it was really important to get qualified. It’s something I’ll have behind me for the rest of my life. What’s three years of training compared to a life of just labouring?”

More than a job

So what’s the difference between a job and an apprenticeship?

“Getting a job means you get paid to work for an employer,” says Tony Laulu, Pacific Advisor at Skills. “This can be a good start, but does mean the employer hasn’t necessarily committed to helping you get qualified.

“On the other hand, getting an apprenticeship means you’re actively working towards your qualification while you get paid. This includes spending some time at a polytechnic course as well as learning on the job. As an apprentice, your employer has committed to helping you get your qualification.”

Ioane, who is being supported by MPTT Auckland, could see the advantages of landing an apprenticeship.

“It opens up more doors than just being a labourer or driving a digger. Maybe in the future I can go to Australia or even start my own business.”

The 21-year-old, who is half Samoan, is quick to encourage other trainees to take the same path, if they get the chance.

“Get your apprenticeship as soon as you can. If you think you’re ready, even a little bit ready, you’re ready. Go out and do it – it’s much better than sitting in a classroom everyday; you’re making money while you study.”

Ioane was doing a Certificate in Electrical Engineering Theory (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology when the opportunity arose to join the workforce.

His MPTT navigator Travis Fenton introduced Ioane to Pat Coll, founder of Coll Electrical.

“Pat asked me to come in just for a chat, and that chat turned out to be the interview,” says Ioane. “That’s how I got the job – easy as that.”

A win-win

Pat, who’s trained about 180 electrical apprentices since starting Coll Electrical back in 1985, says apprenticeships are a win-win, offering big benefits to both aspiring tradies and employers.

“Taking on apprentices is the right thing to do. It’s better for them, and it’s better for us,” he says.

“You’re giving workers an opportunity to up-skill, which means they can get paid more. A lot of people who get an apprenticeship find out they’re quite good at it and they get better and better. You see people grow, and it’s a neat feeling actually.”

Pat says more employers should consider taking on apprentices, rather than just hiring labourers.

“Why have a labourer when you can have an apprentice who’s just going to get better and better?

Hands-on skills

Having previously worked as a chef, Ioane’s now loving the chance to work in a more physical job.

“I’m really enjoying the work. It’s a bit different to the old cooking job! It’s more physical than I thought. I’m doing civil work at the moment, so I’ve been putting up street poles for the past month or so. The spade has been my friend.”

As part of his apprenticeship, Ioane will complete his Level 3 and Level 4 while he works. He’s doing his apprenticeship through Skills, and will spend one day in a classroom every fortnight – while still being paid.

Pat says he doesn’t mind losing his apprentices when they go off-site to study.

“Skills is very good. They come in and sign the apprentices up, they assign them to which tech they’re going, and we just keep an eye on it. I have apprentices who I don’t have any issues with right through their apprenticeship. They go to tech, we sign off their book, they do their job, we pay them. It’s great – couldn’t be better.”

How to nail your job interview
in the trades

Nail your job interview in the trades
Interviews are one of the more nerve-wracking parts of getting a job.
When you’re meeting an employer face to face, you might feel like you have to know everything about your trade, or worry they’ll ask you tricky questions.

But remember, interviews are often more like a chat with the employer. If they’ve read your CV and asked to interview you, they’re already pretty sure you have the skills to do the job. So mostly, your employer wants to have a chat to get to know you and see how you’ll fit in at the company.

Having said that, there’s a lot you can do to help your interview go well. This guide will show you how to prepare for a job interview and make a good impression on your future boss.

1. Find out about the company

Do your research on the company before you arrive at the interview, says Megan Fowlie from Skills.

“Knowing something about the company shows the interviewer you have done some homework and you’re genuinely interested in who they are and what they do.”

She suggests taking these steps to get yourself up to speed:
  • Ask your friends and whānau if they know anyone who works for the company.
    “If so, ask them what they like about it and what they find challenging,” says Megan.
  • Check out the company website. “What does it say about its values, the people who work for it, the type of work it does, how big it is and where it operates? Who is the boss? What photos are on the website and what do they show?”
  • Do a Google search on the company. “Check out the history of the company and find out what other people say about it,” says Megan.
  • Do a Google search on your interviewer. Knowing a bit about them and seeing what they look like can help put you at ease – and might give you a few things to ask them about at the interview.
2. Be ready to ask questions
Tony Laulu from Skills
Tony Laulu from Skills

Asking an interviewer questions doesn’t come naturally to some Māori and Pasifika, says Tony Laulu from Skills. “In some Māori or Pasifika settings, being too outspoken and asking too many questions can be seen as being fie poko/fia poto – a know-it-all who is disrespectful, especially to someone in authority such as an employer.”

But Tony says asking questions is an important part of the interview process and comes across as mature and enthusiastic.

“Asking critical questions in an interview shows you’ve got initiative, you’re well prepared and you’re motivated to get the job.”

So it’s important to have a think about what questions you want to ask, says Megan.

“Asking questions shows the employer you have thought about how you will fit into the company.”

Plus, it can help you feel more comfortable and takes the focus off you for a while.

But what should you ask about? Here are some good questions to keep in mind.
  • Ask about where and when work happens, says Megan. “Sometimes workplaces might send you to worksites in different locations, so ask where you would most likely be working, and whether the company arranges travel to worksites. You can also ask about usual start times and finish times, and whether you would be working on a wide variety of jobs.”
  • Ask about the team – who you’ll be working with and who you’ll report to.
  • If you’re looking to be hired as an apprentice, you can ask the employer how they manage workplace training. You can also ask how many other apprentices are working for them.
  • Ask about the interviewer’s professional background and how they got started with the company. This helps show you’re interested in others, and makes your interview more of a relaxed, two-way conversation.
3. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself.

Answering questions about yourself lets future employers know more about your experience and how you communicate with other people. It also helps them find out how you will fit into the company.

“Even if you have sent through a CV, the interviewer might ask you about what experiences you have had or what you have achieved,” says Megan.

Before the interview think about how you might answer the employer’s questions. For each answer, think of examples where you’ve shown qualities the employer is looking for. Even if you haven’t had a formal job before, there are other ways to show skills that are relevant. For example, turning up to your polytech classes on time shows you’re punctual; being part of a sports team shows you can work well with others; pitching in with family commitments shows you’re responsible.

Common interview questions that you should be prepared to answer include:

Why do you want the job?

Talk about why you’re a good fit for the role, and give examples. Make sure you talk about why you want to work for this specific company, to avoid seeming like you just want any job that comes along.

What are your strengths?

Choose the things you’re good at that are most relevant to the job. Make sure you give examples of where you’ve shown these strengths.

What is your biggest weakness?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer. The key is to answer honestly, but say how you’re working to improve in that area.

Why should we hire you?

This question is a chance to talk about any strengths you haven’t mentioned yet, and to show you’re enthusiastic about this job.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Employers ask this question to get an idea of your career goals and your passion for the job. Now is not the time to mention you might want to be an actor or accountant one day – talk about how the job you’re applying for will help you work towards a long-term career in your trade.

Why did you leave your last job?

If you’ve been employed before, think about how you’ll answer this question. Avoid criticising your previous boss or company. Instead, talk about the positive reasons you wanted to make a change.

It’s important to practice saying your answers out loud.

Practice answering questions about yourself with a family member or friend, or in front of a mirror, says Megan. “This helps you get used to talking about yourself and being proud of what you have achieved so far and what you want to do in the future.”

4. Show up early

Turn up to the place where the interview is being held 15 minutes before you’re due to arrive, says Megan.

“This will show the future employer that you’re punctual. It will also give you some time to become familiar with where you are and reflect on what you want to say during your interview.”

Remember, your interview starts the moment you arrive, so be polite to everyone rather than just the person who interviews you.

“Always greet the receptionist,” says Megan. “Let them know you have arrived for the interview and the name of the person you have come to see.”

Some Māori and Pasifika trainees might prefer to bring a member of their whānau along to their job interview. Some employers may be open to this, but because it’s not standard practice, talk to your navigator about whether it could be an option. They might know the employer, and can give you advice on how to proceed.

5. Think about your appearance

Remember, your interviewer’s first impression of you doesn’t start when you begin talking; it starts when they first see you. These tips will help you look the part.

  • Dressing in smart, tidy clothes for the interview helps show you’re professional and that you take the opportunity seriously, says Megan. “Even though you might be applying for a job on a worksite you need to wear clean, smart clothes to meet the person who will be interviewing you. Also check you have clean shoes and tidy hair.”
  • When you’re waiting for the interviewer, don’t sit in the corner, pull out your phone and hunch over it as you check Facebook. Instead, keep your phone out of sight (and on silent) and look around the waiting area or talk to the receptionist. That way, when the interviewer first sees you you’ll have a more confident-looking, upright posture.
  • Greet your employer with a firm handshake, and shake their hand again when you say goodbye.
  • Don’t be afraid to look the employer directly in the eye, says Tony. “In some Māori and Pasifika settings, it can be considered rude or disrespectful when you look someone directly in the eye, and looking down or away shows you are lowering yourself and showing humility. But in other cultures, looking people in the eye means that you are ‘true to your word’ and looking away or down means you have something to hide or that you’re showing weakness.”
  • Try to keep your hands where the interviewer can see them, rather than in your pockets or under the table. This helps show you’re trustworthy and looks more confident than if you hide your hands.

Find out more about preparing for an interview on the Careers NZ website.

Don’t have any interviews lined up yet? Why not check out our blog about how to write a great cv and cover letter to help you get your foot in the door.

NZMA – Constructing a better future with a nod to the past

NZMA students

NZMA Media Release – 2 October 2017

Approximately 20 NZMA Construction students were warmly welcomed onto the Marae at Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, with a traditional pōwhiri to signal the beginning of a vocational and spiritual journey. Fifteen of the participating students are recipients of the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training: Auckland (MPTT Auckland) scholarships offered by NZMA, who has recently become a member of the MPTT Auckland consortia*.

The students will be working at the marae one day a week, to put into practice the skills they are learning during their Certificate in Building Level 4 programme at NZMA. Students started the 20 week programme on 28 August, which sets them up to enter the construction industry as an apprentice or entry-level employee.

Wyllis Maihi, Chairperson of Komiti Marae Ōrākei Trust says that the building projects that students will be embarking on at the Ōrākei Marae site will provide them with valuable hands-on practical experience, where they will have the opportunity to transform an old villa into a fully functioning multiple learning space, as well as perform reinforcement work on the Wharenui.

NZMA Senior Tutor, Aaron Reid will supervise and keep a watchful eye on the young men and women, alongside Ōrākei marae tradespeople, who will act as mentors to the young tradies for the duration of the joint venture.

It was the first time on a marae for NZMA student Nita Tuiaki, 24. He said, “This is really special, it’s cool and a good experience. I’m looking forward to understanding the Māori culture, and this will be a highlight of my course.”

NZMA staff and students were warmly embraced by the Ngāti Whātua whanau at the marae. Matt Maihi, Ōrākei Marae Manager, explained the significance of the 700 year old site, and how the city grew around it.  He also reinforced the respect for the land, water and air, and reminded students to be respectful when handling the materials they would be using.

NZMA Regional Manager, Monique Le Marque said, “We are thrilled to be working with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei iwi. Gaining the hands-on experience in building, which the project offers, is integral to our students educational experience.  However, equally important is the spiritual understanding of their connection to the past whether Māori, Pasifika or any other ethnicity! The historical and cultural knowledge which Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei will impart to students will serve to enrich their knowledge, and will be a significant factor in these students becoming highly contributing citizens of New Zealand’s future workforce.”

NZMA will be monitoring the progress of the villa, and our next update will be when students are on the Ōrākai marae site, beginning the transformation.


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