Smart choice of carpentry pays off for Sosaia

Sosaia Kaloni was drawn to construction to give his family better financial support. Now, at 24 years old, Sosaia has a great job with a leading company and is looking forward to becoming a qualified carpenter. He says OCA and MPTT Navigators have been critical to his success. His little brother would agree.

The Kaloni family is from the village of Kolovai in Tonga. Sosaia and his brother grew up in Otara, South Auckland. When his parents were too sick to work, he left school to start earning. Unfortunately, he found himself doing factory and warehouse work where the money was just never enough. When he saw his little brother was going to leave school to do the same thing, he knew it was time to make a smart choice. Together, they embarked on training for construction with an MPTT scholarship at Oceania Careers Academy – OCA.

Oceania Career Academy (OCA) has been providing Pasifika and South Auckland youth with pathways into the building industry since 2015. OCA has the ultimate goal of helping Pasifika families thrive financially, and this is what’s happened for Sosaia, his brother and the Kaloni whānau. 

“As soon as I started looking at the trades, I saw so much opportunity. And it was easy — not really easy, but enjoyable. I wish I had done it straight after school,” says Sosaia.


High grit required

“I was working while I did my training, so it was hard to fit in the study. Sometimes I needed to leave the class a bit early to get to work, but I would talk through it with the tutors. They were supportive as long as I did my work before I had to go. They’re pretty helpful like that.”

When Covid struck, a little extra support was especially important. Sosaia said MPTT and the OCA tutors made all the difference.

“During the lockdown, we lost our jobs. And it was hard trying to look for work at that time. So, I let them know about it, and they helped a lot. They’d check in on how we were at home, and they even dropped off some shopping for us.

“MPTT Navigators and OCA Tutors make everything easier. They care about you in class but also outside of class. They keep in touch.

“Once we began at our new job, we were supplied with all the tools we needed to get going through OCA, like basic hand tools, belts, and some power tools like nail guns.” 

During his training, Sosaia found his passion for carpentry.

“I just enjoy being so hands-on, and it also keeps your mind going. I love calculating the cut, cutting it and then putting it all together. There’s always something new, and there are always fresh challenges.”


Learning leads to earning

McConnell Dowell was pleased to give Sosaia and his brother a shot to join their team and learn their trade.

“I’m just starting with McConnell. They’re so easy to work with. Ever since we started, they’ve made our job easier. Everyone here is so onto it. It’s great to be around because you’ve just got to be on your toes.”

Sosaia will soon be through his trial period and onto the next step of starting his apprenticeship so that he can become a qualified carpenter.

“The best thing about doing my apprenticeship will just be the knowledge. It will make the stuff I do easier. Although being qualified comes with more responsibility, I’m ready for the challenge.”

Sosaia with his foreman
Sosaia with his current foreman at McConnell Dowell, Simon Ikiua

The whānau is freed from worries

Sosaia has certainly proven he’s ready to step up. He’s rightly proud and is enjoying the rewards of his new career as a carpenter.

“I found something stable compared to what I used to have. I’m able to fully provide for my family now. Mum and Dad don’t have to worry about anything.”

He’d like to stay with McConnell Dowell for a long time. But he also knows that having his qualification gives him lots of options.

“Maybe I could set up my own business with my brother one day.”

For now, Sosaia is just grateful for the decision he made to get into the trades, the support he received and the future he’s building for himself. He says anyone thinking about the trades should make the most of the opportunity and support from MPTT and OCA.

“You’ve just got to put yourself all in – 100%. And everything you put in will be paid back to you.”

Tikanga and strong relationships are the foundation for Māori and Pasifika success at NZMA

NZMA is unlocking new futures for Māori and Pasifika by doing things differently. 

The team at NZMA has put tikanga Māori at the foundation of its relationships with tauira, whānau and the community. As a result, they’re breaking down barriers for a whole range of learners. 

Vau Atonio, Campus Manager, says it’s an approach that is woven into every part of NZMA’s programme. He’s come through roles that include teaching, stakeholder engagement, regional sales manager, head of faculty and now campus manager, allowing him to see how each layer of the organisation works with the rest. 


Building a place for people to thrive

“It starts on the first day at orientation. It’s all about making sure that when tauira walk through the door, the first thing they see is a big smile.

“I truly believe that if cultural inclusivity is embedded from the outset, outcomes will follow, and students will flourish.” 

An example of this is the learning environment created when NZMA partnered with Hoani Waititi Marae to establish NZMA’s Trades West Campus. It means culture always has a visible presence.

“We run classes every week for each cohort where they learn about the language and customs. Our students enjoy the pōwhiri. For many, it brings comfort from the get-go because they see what they’re used to at home reflected in their learning space. 

I tell my students: ‘You need to feel like this is your home. Because if you feel safe, you’ll be better able to learn and grow.” 


He tangata

“It’s about creating an environment that is full of the things our people are good at, so it’s supportive of learning and growth,” says Vau.

“We embrace waiata and karakia, and it’s a family orientated thing. We want to ensure our students are proud of their culture.

We prepare them to speak about themselves articulately, express what they need and be confident to talk about their skills.” 

NZMA’s philosophy has always been about building genuine relationships with students, treating everyone with respect, and understanding that they are all individuals with different dreams, pressures and needs. It creates an inclusive environment for a diverse group of learners. 

“Some learners that come through that just don’t fit the school mould. We also have a broad range of ages.”

“Tikanga gives us the platform to support and rebuild our learners who have had a negative schooling experience or may have low self-esteem.” 

“At all three of NZMAs Trades campuses, we have a regular lunch where everyone just puts down their tools and breaks bread together. This is about getting to know each other and sharing each other’s stories.”


NZMA has three campuses specialising in trades.

Drop into a campus near you, say hi and see why NZMA could be the place for you.

NZMA Trades Centre

807 Great South Road, Mount Wellington, Auckland 1060, 
Phone: 09 217 0501

  • Painting & Plastering
  • Construction
NZMA Trades West

Parrs Park, 443 West Coast Road, Oratia, Glen Eden, Auckland 0602, 
Phone: 09 217 0501

  • Construction
  • Plumbing & Gasfitting
  • Electrical Engineering
NZMA Trades South

15c Vestey Drive Auckland, Mt Wellington, Mount Wellington, Auckland 1060
Phone: 09 217 0501

  • Plumbing & Gasfitting
  • Electrical Engineering

What you can see shows what you can be

Vau says NZMA knows students need to be able to recognise themselves in the staff and tutors so they can see what’s possible. This is especially so for supporting women into the trades

Jasmine, Karley and Toa are three Construction Tutors who are welcoming a new generation of wāhine into their classrooms at NZMA.

“When we have so many women as tutors, it means trainees have relatable and inspiring role models so they can see, ‘Hey, I can do that too,” says Vau. 

Jasmine, a construction tutor, says NZMA trades training has a great atmosphere for women and the whole industry is less male-dominated than in the past. Toa and Karley say they see women flourish at their campus and say their determination shines through. 

“They’re less likely to just fall into it as a pathway. Instead, it’s a conscious choice.” 

You can read more about the women breaking down stereotypes here.


Practical support and skills are a focus 

Vau says NZMA sets Māori and Pasifika up for both immediate and long-term success.

“Being amazing at what you do is not enough; you also need to be reliable. This means sorting transport and making sure you’ve got the right gear. 

“Our trainees are ready to work hard. We want to equip them with self-belief as well, so they have the persistence to complete their apprenticeships.

“I tell them that once you’re qualified, you become the decision-maker. You become the person who gets to make the decisions that change people’s lives and also to make decisions that make your life a better place.” 

“We have the opportunity to change lives, and I’m really grateful for that.”


Shifting the Dial

Vau recently contributed NZMA’s insights on Māori and Pasifika learners to a report, ‘Shifting the Dial: The Economic and Societal Impact of Removing Barriers for Underserved Learners in Aotearoa (2022).   

Vau explains, “Many of our students feel an inherent responsibility to their families to make the most of every opportunity and to pave the way for the next generation.  

“They are often the first to pursue post-secondary education in their families. It can be easy for them to feel alone and unsure of themselves in these unfamiliar waters. 

“Our students are striving for generational change, not only in their educational capabilities but also for their families’ financial situation.” 

With every graduate, NZMA is helping another new tradie create that future. 

Shifting the Dial – together

Shifting the dial
Shifting the Dial is a new paper that reveals the far-reaching benefits of improved learning and training pathways for Māori and Pasifika. Billions of dollars in earning increases are available if changes are made. And that could transform our communities.

Simply put, the needs of our people must lead innovation in the education sector.

The paper showed compelling economic modelling by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. Lifting the educational outcomes of underserved learners to the national average would lead to $10.9 billion in extra wages over a thirty-year period, adjusting for labour force participation.

The paper was led by UP Education, which offers a whole range of training, including through MPTT training provider, NZMA. NZMA trades is already doing great things to lead with tikanga and to support women into the trades.

Craig Rushworth, CE of UP Education, says it’s about putting learners first.

“While underserved learners come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds, Māori, Pacific peoples and people with disabilities are over-represented in the underserved learners’ group. So, it’s clear that we can improve our education system because currently, it’s not delivering for too many learners of Aotearoa.”


The paper gave 13 recommendations for government, policymakers and education providers to shift the Dial.

  1. Adopt and invest in tried and tested learning programmes that have been co-designed with Māori, Pacific and disabled communities to create system-wide change.
  2. Implement tailored learning plans that focus on each individual learner, identify their barriers to education and develop a strategy to address these.
  3. Introduce improved wraparound services – social workers, counsellors, support workers and careers advisors – dedicated to working with hard-to-reach students.
  4. Introduce accessibility legislation with clear standards for post-secondary education providers with a focus on mainstreaming accessibility.
  5. Implement national best practices for support services that work regularly with students at risk of being underserved.
  6. Encourage innovation and flexibility in the post-secondary education sector with the implementation of incentives to improve educational outcomes for hard-to-reach ākonga.
  7. Increase the visibility of Māori, Pacific and people with disabilities in the education sector through a focused recruitment strategy and workforce development strategy.
  8. Facilitate education providers to partner with iwi to deliver education programmes through marae, with a tikanga learning approach.
  9. Provide improved mechanisms for Māori, Pacific and disabled students to have a stronger voice on decisions and strategies that impact them.
  10. Ensure the teaching of soft and life skills is built into all courses so that all learners leave a course not only academically qualified but also work-ready.
  11. Expand vocational trades training into more secondary schools through partnership with tertiary providers, with the aim of keeping more young people engaged with education.
  12. Undertake a review of curricula so that they are immersive and culturally inclusive to ensure course materials reflect a modern New Zealand and that all students can see themselves in the material they are learning from.
  13. Create a sense of belonging and a positive learning environment through cultural motifs, artworks, posters and wayfinding that make all students feel welcome.

“Ultimately, it’s about breaking the mould of the existing education system and meeting students’ needs on their own learning terms. From students, through to teachers at the front line, as well as policy and cultural experts, they are all saying the same thing,” says Rushworth.

“Investing in underserved learning is a social investment in New Zealand’s future and is one of the most influential levers we have to improve the lives of thousands of New Zealanders.”

At MPTT, we’re proud to be part of this solution and to be bringing together others who share our vision and commitment.

You can access the report at UP Education’s website here. 

Women are working it in the trades

Female trades trainees at NZMA
Wāhine Māori and Pasifika are breaking down stereotypes and building futures.

At NZMA, Dalice, Shalei, Mereana and Ngatamaine are women who are stepping up in their steelcaps to learn a trade. They’re backed by a supportive learning environment, inspired by female tutors and passionate about developing their skills. They told us about their experience so far and offered encouragement to other women thinking about the trades.  

According to these wāhine, change is coming to the old stereotype that trades are male-dominated.  

When Dalice Kareko wondered about learning a trade, one of her first questions to NZMA was whether other women were studying. She was surprised to find out that more than half the class was female. She’s also realised that the work is so varied that it’s easier to hold your own than expected.

“It’s cool to be able to read a plan literally off the wall of the building and interpret it into a real-life project.”


Malice Kareko is studying Level 3 Construction at NZMA
Dalice Kareko is studying Level 3 Construction at NZMA with the help of a scholarship from
Māori and Pasifika Trades Training.

It’s a profession with potential

Dalice decided to learn construction to set herself up with a profession and options. She said she looked ahead and realised she wanted more from life than turning up for a shift. In particular, she wanted a skill that she could turn into a career.

“I just want to step out beyond the usual jobs and office work to do something outdoorsy.”  

Tutor Jasmine Lolo wishes more young women knew how many options there are. “The trades are about so much more than building… you can take almost any path,” she said. Jasmine gave the example of health and safety specialists or site managers – these roles are far different to the ‘hammer and nail’ people might think of.

And the earning potential is attractive too. Mereana Panui saw how much builders were earning and decided that it shouldn’t just be for the boys. 

“It looked pretty fun! Right now, I’m just enjoying it, but it’s also about the end game: It’s a good career.”


Gaining skills is satisfying

The wāhine we spoke to all talked about how rewarding it is to learn how to use tools and create things. 

Ngatamaine Tipukoroa is studying electrical at NZMA, and it suits her because she likes to work with her hands. “I like to challenge myself, and the challenge is good. Not many people back home in the Islands have the skills to work in electrical, so what I’m learning will mean I can really help. Together we’ll be able to build homes.”

Shalei Seumanutafa gets a kick knowing she can hold her own when it comes to using tools and looks forward to having something to show for a day’s work. 

“I love the idea of actually being able to see your work take shape in front of you. I know people in construction who can point out huge apartments and buildings and say, ‘Yeah, I worked on that.’  And I will be able to say that as well! 

Shalei is excited about starting her apprenticeship because she knows that it will build her skills and satisfaction further.

“I want to move up. And I just like learning.

“An apprenticeship gives you the chance to work right alongside more experienced workers, get discipline and have the interest of different sites to go to.”

And then there’s the satisfaction of building things rather than buying them. I can build things for my chickens or guinea pigs and fix stuff around the house. And I get the reward of knowing I did that,” said Shalei.

Shalei is another MPTT scholarship recipient preparing for a career in construction at NZMA Trades.

Putting your passion first

Since starting at NZMA, Shalei knows she’s exactly where she wants to be. At high school, she enjoyed building but the classes were full of boys. She ended up switching to sewing. However, after working in an office, she knew her heart was in the trades. Having a bit of life experience made it easier to step into something new.

“I know who I am now, and I feel more comfortable because I know this is what I really want to do.” She advises others to be true to themselves as well. 

“I’ve been feeling like I wanted to do trades since school, and now I’m here, and it’s way cooler. So, it’s worth thinking about what makes you happy. Do what you want to do, and not just what others think you should be doing. Follow your gut!”


There’s a sense of support

It’s clear that NZMA has created an environment where women can thrive in their training. 

Mereana said,  “I wasn’t expecting lots of females to be in my class, but there are heaps. And there are a lot of age groups too.

“We’re working in smaller groups to build our cabins, and I’m the team leader. So, it’s soft skills that we’re building too.”

“I was worried people might treat me differently as a female. I was ready to have to work extra hard to prove myself. But it wasn’t really like that. The tutors are all good and super supportive.” 

Dalice said having female tutors makes a big difference. “They get it. And they show that there are real prospects and possibilities.”

It won’t be long before Dalice, Shalei, Mereana and Ngatamaine are out working and inspiring others to do the same. Ngatamaine is already looking forward to a prestigious apprenticeship with Hawkins. She knows getting qualified will set her up for long term success, and she hopes more females will follow. 

“As women, we’re proving to everyone that we can make it. So don’t be afraid to put your name down and step up for trades. Follow your heart and keep going.”

Mereana Panui, Construction trainee and MPTT scholarship recipient currently doing her pre-trades at NZMA.

Keep your tools safe

A tradies tools are their most valuable possession
As a tradie, your tools are your most valuable possession – but they’re also a top target for thieves. Tool theft is on the rise in New Zealand, as a handful of our MPTT trainees have discovered. But, there are things you can do to protect your kit. Read on to find out some simple ways to keep your tools safe.

MPTT electrical trainee Vaine Wolfgramme learned first-hand why tradie’s insurance is so important when her tools were burgled from her sister’s house earlier this year.

“It was my Makita drill — an impact and a hammer and they were worth about $800. It was brand new. I’d only just got it. I hadn’t even had time to write my name on them.” 

Stolen along with her tools was Vaine’s Playstation 4 and her work safety gear. 

But luckily, Vaine was wise and had her tools insured before they were nicked. This meant she’s able to replace the tools she lost, without having to cover the full expense herself.

“I’m just waiting for the insurance company to give me the money so I can go and buy some new tools.”

Watch your back

To protect your livelihood, it’s important to get educated on tool theft and what you can do to prevent it. 

Remember, tools that are visible from the street are more likely to be stolen. So, it’s best not to keep tools in the back of your ute or hanging up on the garage wall.

It’s common for thieves to sit, wait, and watch for the perfect window to steal – so keep that in mind when you’re taking tools from one place to another. 

In Vaine’s case, she believes the thieves were watching her drop her tools off at her sister’s house after work, and took the opportunity to break in after she left.

“It was a rush job.”

If you normally leave your tools in your vehicle overnight, NZ Police suggest bringing them into your home each night instead.

If this isn’t an option, lock your tools in a secure box that’s hidden from view, or cover your tools with a blanket or tarpaulin to keep them out of sight.

Get it engraved

Another key way to keep your tools safe is to get your name engraved on them, says Vaine.  

“Some people mark or inscribe their tools — like, write all over them.”

Poster on how to protect your tools

Otherwise police might find a pile of stolen tools down the track, but if they’re not marked as yours, they won’t be able to get them back to you.

For the best chance of having your tools returned, NZ Police recommend engraving tools with your driver’s license number. 

You can find an engraving kit at The Warehouse or Mitre 10 for less than $50

If you don’t have one, you can get it done at a trophy engraving or key cutting store. 

Engraving is best because it can’t be scratched off or removed. But at the very least, be sure to mark your new tools with paint or a permanent marker in a unique and easily identifiable way. 

Make sure you’re covered

Insurance and police registration are failsafe ways to protect your tools.

Vaine Wolfgramme
Thanks to insurance, Vaine Wolfgramme will soon get her stolen tools replaced.

Fortunately for Vaine, her tools were insured when they were stolen so it was easy to replace them. To process her insurance claim, she had to provide the police report and the receipt for the stolen tools.

“I would say register your tools, because if you’ve done that and your tools get stolen, then you can probably get them back if the cops find them.” 

You can register your tool serial numbers online through the NZ Police SNAP website

It’s also a good idea to take photos of your receipts, in case the print on them fades. Make sure you store copies of the photos somewhere they’ll be easy to find later.

Tradies can also use security apps like Tool Protect. The app stores information about your tools and makes it easy to file police and insurance reports for stolen tools from your phone.

Vaine’s advice for trades students is to make sure you’re insured as you advance in your career, because of how expensive tools can be to replace.

“Once I get a Fluke Multifunction Tester, that’ll cost around $2000 on its own.”


Tool tips for tradies

Your tools are crucial to your trades career, so do what you can to keep them safe. Tool theft is common, but there are things you can do to avoid it. Here are some reminders: 

  • Engrave your tools with your name or licence number.
  • Get your tools insured. 
  • Register tool serial numbers with NZ Police.
  • Store tools in secure places out of sight. 
  • Be vigilant when moving your tools from place to place.

Female builder brings something new to the team

West Aucklander Brenna Bishop grew up helping her dad with building projects, but having never known a female builder, she wasn’t sure she could make it in the trade herself. Now a valued apprentice at Macreadie Builders, Brenna’s discovered she’s far from the only woman in construction. In fact, she’s found loads of support both on and off the building site.

When Brenna Bishop left school, she knew she wanted to do hands-on work. But she was initially hesitant to enter the trades industry. 

It wasn’t until she talked to her dad – a chippy himself – that she realised there was no reason she couldn’t become a builder. 

“When I started looking around at the trades, I couldn’t see any women promoting it. I don’t think I’d ever met another chick who’d done building. So I thought, ‘nah I can’t do that because I’m female’. 

“But my dad told me to give it a go. And then it was reassuring when I went to Unitec and there were actually other girls in my class. That was kinda nice.”

Now that she’s working in the industry, the 22-year-old has discovered a whole network of women builders who are keen to help each other out.

“There are a lot of online groups to support women who are struggling or having second thoughts about becoming builders. And there are a lot of people posting on those groups asking if anyone needs help, or giving their perspective on things. That’s nice to have a group to back you up.”

Brenna’s boss Joel Macreadie, owner of Macreadie Builders, says she’s quickly growing in her ability on the building site. 

“She’s got a good thirst for knowledge. She obviously loves building, and she’s really building her knowledge-base quickly. She asks a lot of questions, which you have to do when you’re an apprentice.”


Adding to the team

Brenna says that although some contractors who come to the building site treat her a bit differently to her male colleagues, she’s accepted and supported by her boss and workmates.

Brenna was the first woman tradie Joel has hired, but he’s since taken on another into his team of six. 

“I was keen to get some women into our workforce to bring a different element to everything,” says Joel. “

Having a mix of men and women is popular with clients, he says. 

“I think having women on the team makes a company feel a bit more trustworthy. Clients have quite often said: ‘It’s great to see you hiring women’. I’ve had that comment quite a few times.”

“What we’ve found is our clients quite like seeing women on site. It also settles the guys down a bit with things like language, and it just encourages the good practice that you want within your company.”


A different approach

Brenna, who is part Samoan, says she often approaches tasks differently to the men on site. 

“To be honest, sometimes I bring a completely different perspective to the guys, in terms of how we’ll lift something or how to work something out. Also, I’m quite particular about the finishing of things and I think a lot of women are like that as well.”

Joel has also noticed his female employees tend to work more carefully and produce high-quality results.

“Brenna’s got a good eye for detail and she’s a good worker. In general, a guy’s mentality can be a bit ‘smash it up’ and get the job done, whereas the women tend to be a bit more meticulous. So, Brenna definitely brings a bit more of that to the table, and thinking things through more thoroughly,” he says.

Physical strength is an advantage in the building trade, and Brenna says being on the smaller side can mean you need to improvise.

“There are things we lift that are heavier than me. But I think of other ways around it. So, I’ll find a way to prop or lever it up, instead of breaking my back trying to lift something I can’t.” 

But at the same time, it’s worth remembering that strength isn’t necessarily about gender – there are smaller men who also struggle with lifting things, she says. 

“I think it comes down to working on your weaknesses, but also embracing your strengths. Just embracing who you are, ‘cos everyone’s going to be slightly different.”

Making it happen

Towards the end of her pre-trades course at Unitec in 2018, Brenna’s MPTT navigator set up a few introductions to employers, who focused on commercial building. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Brenna also did her own job search, which helped her find her ideal apprenticeship.

“In my head I’d always wanted to work for a company that does residential work. My dad’s got his own company and he encouraged me to find something local and with a small group of people. 

“I ended up going on Facebook and posting to see if my family and friends knew of anyone looking for an apprentice. And then a family friend put my name forward because my now-employer was working at their house.”

Soon after, Brenna was at her friend’s house meeting her future boss.

“The company said they’d give me a trial to see how it goes, and I’ve never left since then. This is my third year with the company. 

“They were supportive from the get-go, so I felt pretty lucky. He’s a cool boss. His wife is quite involved too and she’s great to have as a support person.”

The team often have two or three jobs on the go at once, which they tackle in pairs.

“I feel like I’ve progressed forward a lot because I’ve done an awful lot of different things. I’ve had a bit of a taster of everything.” 


Looking to the future

Brenna is now well on her way to getting qualified, with her apprenticeship due to finish next year. 

Although she loves being on the tools, she has a five- to 10-year plan to move into a leadership role and eventually start her own business. 

“My dad has said I can take over his company and he kind of suggested it’d be kind of cool to do an all-female building and construction company. So I might do that. It’s not about trying to get rid of all the guys, but it would be something different.”

Brenna found her willingness to work hard and put her all into the job has served her well in the workplace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

“I’m not competitive, but I’m determined to prove myself in everything I do. So, I might struggle with something but I’ll push to make it work. 

“Even if it’s just digging a hole and it sucks and it’s muddy, I’ll always try to do my best.”

With a great team and work she loves, Brenna is grateful for the opportunities her MPTT scholarship has opened up for her.

“I like the atmosphere on the building site. I’m pretty lucky that the people I work with make it a really enjoyable place. And seeing the progress of each job, and the clients being so happy, is really awesome.”

More and more wahine are joining the trades industry and learning skills that are in high demand. Want to join them? Find out more about being a woman in the trades, and check out these stories of other Māori and Pasifika women in the industry:

  • Young mum Toni Rhind, who’ll be ‘fighting off job offers’ once she’s qualified, according to her boss.
  • Flora Rivers, who was the first woman on her construction team and loves getting her hands dirty with practical work.
  • Automotive apprentice Elaine Pereira, who found attitude and work ethic are way more important than physical strength.

Buying first home thanks to trades skills

Since long before he began his construction training, Salesi Vi dreamed of owning his own home. But for many years, this seemed out of reach for him and his family. After beginning his trades training and attending a money workshop through MPTT, the father of two and his wife were able to move into their first home just before Christmas.

Salesi Vi had been working in a factory for eight years, but the life he really wanted remained out of reach. 

After getting married, he and his wife Sandalyn, who worked at the airport at the time, hoped to buy a family home. But their incomes and the savings they’d pulled together just weren’t enough.

“We looked at our finances – not quite enough to buy a house,” he says. 

“We knew we’d have kids coming down the line; there’s a lot of spending there. So we set a goal to find a way to improve our income and be able to afford a house. So we decided to go back to school.”

Salesi, now 37, began training as a carpenter with help from an MPTT scholarship, while Sandalyn also changed careers to work in the dental industry. 

“We were looking at our financials and asking: ‘Are we going to be able to afford to pay the mortgage?’ That’s why we went back to school, to get qualifications and get paid more than what we used to.”

Money talks

During his pre-trades training at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in 2017, Salesi attended a financial capability workshop. This was delivered by Issac Liava’a, a financial mentor who is also MPTT’s Mana Whakahaere Pasifika (Ambassador).

Issac spoke to Salesi and the other trainees about how to manage their money well, in order to be financially stable now and in the future – advice which Salesi applied to help his family save a bigger house deposit.

“One thing we knew was we needed to make sure we didn’t have debt,” says Salesi, who admits it wasn’t always easy to limit his spending. 

“There was a time when I dropped a hint to my wife to say, ‘Hey, I think it’s time for me to get a new car’. But my wife told me that if your car takes you from A to B, that’s good enough. And obviously I’m still driving – there’s nothing wrong with the car. But I thought I needed a new car at that time.”

Opening the door

In 2020, Salesi and Sandalyn celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary, which seemed like a good time to buy their first home. They set the goal to own their home within that year.

At around the same time, Issac spoke to Salesi about his future plans and saw an opportunity to help him with home ownership.

Issac had been working for the New Zealand Housing Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that helps lower-income renting households become homeowners. He told Salesi about the Housing Foundation’s development in Mangere, thinking the family would be good candidates for what’s called ‘shared ownership’. 

This is where Salesi and Sandalyn would buy a majority of the property, with the rest of the house temporarily owned by the Housing Foundation – making it much more affordable than if they were to buy 100% of the home straight away. Over time, the family could then buy the Housing Foundation’s share of the home.

The couple decided to buy the home, and with support from Issac, they moved in a few days before Christmas 2020. 

Salesi (left) was welcomed to his new home with flowers from MPTT, which were handed over by Issac Liava’a, MPTT Mana Whakahaere Pasifika.

“Issac really worked hard to make it happen in that time,” says Salesi. “The kids were very happy – and we were all happy to be in our new home before Christmas.”

By purchasing their home through Housing Foundation’s shared ownership programme, Salesi and his family were able to move into a brand new, three-bedroom home without the need for a large deposit (a minimum of a $10,000 deposit was required – much lower than the usual 20% deposit that’s needed, which in Auckland could be more than $100,000). 

Salesi had previously been considering buying a two-bedroom home. But through the Housing Foundation programme, they were able to purchase a three-bedroom home for less than the valuation price, allowing his two children to have a room each. 

As part of the process, Salesi received support from mortgage managers and solicitors, and will have ongoing support to guide him and his wife through the process of buying the rest of the home from Housing Foundation when they’re ready to. This makes the property more affordable and means they can enjoy living in their home right now.

Could you qualify for help from the New Zealand Housing Foundation? Find out more on their website or get in touch with Issac Liava’a (issac@fcandeconsult.co.nz) to talk about your options.

Salesi’s decision to retrain in the trades has improved his earning potential and helped him and his wife to buy their own home in Auckland.

Want to be better with money? Even if you haven’t been a great saver in the past, money management is a skill you can learn. Find out more about how to make your money last, and get tips to help you make good choices with money. If you’d like to hear about upcoming money workshops through MPTT, get your name on the list by emailing issac@fcandeconsult.co.nz with the subject line ‘Money workshop’.

Construction veteran’s colourful career

With more than five decades’ experience in construction, industry stalwart Ben Mckay still loves using his skills to help others. Find out how Ben’s trade has allowed him to be his own boss and taken him around the world, from Mangere to Myanmar.

Learning a trade has been life-changing for Ben Mckay. Since training as a builder back in the late 1960s through the Māori Trade Training Scheme, the 70-year-old’s practical skills have continued to open doors for him.

After getting his carpentry and joinery apprenticeship, Ben was able to take his trade overseas, including to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma). 

This experience meant he could see the world while earning money and continuing to grow his skills – an option he says is still a great choice for young tradies.

“Look at the journey,” says Ben. “I didn’t know I was going to go overseas. Someone just approached me. They saw I’d been through the trades, and they asked if I’d like to go and work overseas. 

“I’ve never, ever paid for a passport in my life – and I’ve had four of them! Those opportunities still exist for the young ones today.” 

Ben, who was born in Wairoa, knew it was important to get qualified thanks to advice from his dad.

“I always remembered in the back of my mind that my dad said: ‘Get a real job — not a labouring job or making tea or something like that’.”

So, at 17 years old, Ben (Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou, Waikato) caught a train from Hastings to Wellington, to do his carpentry and joinery apprenticeship. 

He did his training through the Māori Trade Training Scheme, in which MPTT Auckland has its roots. The scheme saw thousands of Māori gain trade qualifications between 1959 and the mid-1980s, creating a generation of Māori leaders in the trades — a legacy MPTT is working to continue.

“Doing that training was a turning point for me,” says Ben. “There were 23 of us and we lived in the hostel together, learning plumb, square and level from our tutors.

“We lived, cried and did everything there together.”

After eight years in Wellington, Ben got married and eventually moved to Auckland for work.

“I was managing the trades training for Owens from their office in Ponsonby. They had two hostels here and I used to check what supplies and equipment they needed to be building houses.”

Later he worked for Fletcher Construction, where he managed the steel works in Mangere, and spent four years working for himself as a contractor. He also worked for Australian company Civil & Civic on multi-story buildings on Queen St, and even spent some time building sets for TV shows. 

Then in 1987, Fletcher invited Ben to go to the Solomon Islands to help build a secondary school. He stayed there until 1993, along with his wife and four children. 

“Every weekend I went fishing — I didn’t go to the pub. We caught everything up there, even snakes and crocodiles!

“We collected mushrooms, grew our own food, went crab hunting and did crab races — it was a good life.”

After working in several places in Asia and the Pacific, Ben returned to New Zealand and used his skills to work for himself. He started two businesses, one of which he still runs. 

A big benefit of being a qualified carpenter is you can build your own home, says Ben.

“Building your own home is a great way to get ahead. I’ve built homes for my brother, my brother-in-law, my cousins, and all over the world.” 

Having built everything from mega structures to humble abodes, Ben has always enjoyed using his skills to solve problems and help others. These days, he continues to give back to those in his community.

“Me and my son just went around to help this old lady — she’s 76. We spent three hours fixing up her stairs, using whatever timber we had. She asked us, ‘How much?’ I just said, ‘What do you mean?’

“I just like to help people who need help. It’s good to give back.”

Ben’s career has taken him far and wide. Here, he’s seen working on a project in Niue, for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

Māori and Pasifika Trades students are always part of the whānau, even after graduation. As one of our alumni, we’ll let you know about industry news and job offers and give you ongoing access to a supportive network in the trades. Make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected.

‘I never thought climbing trees would be this fun’

Jordan Hattaway never thought he’d be a natural climber. But after spotting a Facebook post about an arborist with an MPTT scholarship, he decided to check out the trade. Less than a year later, he’s recently had the chance to compete in a national tree climbing competition. 

Jordan only started his arborist training this year, but he’s already made it to a national competition for his trade. 

Having entered a regional competition in Auckland, the 23-year-old didn’t quite qualify for nationals – but he impressed the judges enough to be picked as a wild card for the national competition in Queenstown, which he attended this month.

“It was a really exhilarating competition, especially for a boy who had no background in it. I never thought climbing trees would be this fun,” says Jordan.

“My next goal is to push for next year’s comp, and in the next five years to get a New Zealand title.”

Career climber

Competitive tree climbing is a replication of best practice in the arboriculture industry, without actually cutting a tree. Competing in these events helps further an arborist’s career.

To help Jordan (Ngāti Whātua) attend the event, MPTT provided $850 to cover his flights, accommodation and registration fee.

“All I can say is thank you to MPTT. They’ve done a lot for me so far and I can’t overstate what it’s done for me,” says Jordan, who lives with his partner, mother-in-law and 10-month-old daughter. 

“The scholarship has changed my life, honestly. This is definitely going to set me up for life and set my family up for life.”

Branching out

The Manukau Institute of Technology trainee began his training at the start of 2020, so is “real green to the arborist industry”. Having seen an MPTT Facebook post about becoming an arborist, he decided to check it out with his brother-in-law.

Jordan was chosen as a ‘wild card’ competitor for the national tree climbing event in Queenstown, which he attended with his tutor Zane Wedding and other trainees from MIT.

“As soon as we saw someone swinging in a tree, we were thinking, ‘Yeah, this is for us’. We’re basically like monkeys.” 

“I just never thought climbing would be something I would do. I didn’t even see that I had this natural ability to climb things.”

He spends around three days a week on his coursework, and on other days works at Specimen Treecare in Panmure. He also practices tree climbing on weekends, often in a reserve or park. 

“We’ll find a big tree somewhere that’s not dangerous, and we’ll practice for five or six hours on a weekend. That’s so we can get our muscle memory, so we remember what to do when we’re in a comp,” he says.

“I want to win a national title so I can be known in the book of arboriculture. It’s just going to be a hell of a lot of training. But, you know, I’m up for it. I’m ready to put in the effort.”

Māori and Pasifika Trades students are always part of the whānau, even after graduation. As one of our alumni, we’ll let you know about industry news and job offers and give you ongoing access to a supportive network in the trades. Make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected.

Love for kai feeds hospo career

With a life-long love of food, hospitality was a natural career choice for Fawn Marsh. Having enjoyed cooking with her grandma while growing up, Fawn is now passing her skills on to the next generation by teaching her daughter how to make healthy meals.

Cooking is more than a passion for Fawn Marsh – it’s about whānau too. With a six-year-old daughter, Fawn is keen to set a good example and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

“I wanted to learn how to make nutritious meals for my daughter. I’ve always had a love for food, but I’ve never had the options to do it.”

Now a few months into her Level 4 NZ Certificate in Cookery at Kiwa, the 26-year-old enjoys bringing the kai she makes in class home to share with her daughter.

“I don’t eat the food when I’m at my course. If I have something I think would be good for us, I save it for our dinner because I like my daughter to taste our food.” 

“The other day I made a platter with everything you need for a Chicken Caesar Salad, and I had her make her own one. I like her to get involved in helping with the cooking, as well as getting her on a healthy diet. I want her to have the healthiest food options.”

Plus, cooking on campus has given Fawn the chance to try new methods and ingredients that aren’t usually in her price range as a student and single mum. 

“I get to use certain ingredients that I’d never normally be able to use due to my budgeting. I was able to make pasta because we had pasta makers. To be able to utilise stuff I don’t have access to at home, because of my finances, has been amazing.”

Sharing her cooking skills with the next generation is close to Fawn’s heart, having been taught a lot as a child by her grandmother – who still lives nearby in Papakura.

“She’s very old-school and used to cook everything for my grandad. Growing up learning how to bake with my grandma, that’s one of my favourite memories and still to this day is one of my happy places.” 

Passionate about the hospitality industry, Fawn now has her sights set on getting qualified and being her own boss. 

“It’s a goal of mine to open a catering business. I want to be able to employ people who’ve been through hard times, so I can help get them out into the community.” 

Culture course

Fawn (Ngāpui, Tainui) has enjoyed learning more about Māori culture as she’s studied cookery.

“Mum is English and Scottish, and dad’s Māori. I’ve never really been around dad; I’ve been brought up with mum and her family, so I didn’t grow up knowing much about Māori culture,” she says.

“I’ve learned more at Kiwa about the Māori culture than in the entire time I was at school. When Matariki happened this year, our chef dedicated two theory days to explaining Matariki and the traditional food. 

“We got to learn about traditional Māori foods, which I thought was amazing because, I’m not gonna lie, I’m like the whitest Māori ever – so it was awesome to learn about that.”

“That’s something I love about the course, is that I get to learn about Māori culture as well as hospitality.”

A side of support

Having worked since her high-school years, Fawn tried a few jobs before finding her trade. She has worked in offices, warehouses, cafés and a First Aid certificate licencing company. 

“I wanted to find a job I was passionate about, which is the reason I finally started doing hospitality. 

“I’m one of those ones who watches every season of Master Chef and My Kitchen Rules. Most of my Netflix is food shows.”

Studying has had its challenges for Fawn, but MPTT’s support has helped, she says.

“When I was doing Level 3, I was on a solo mum’s benefit because the course wasn’t full-time. But when I moved to Level 4, it was considered full-time and they just cut my benefit. 

“There was a time when I wasn’t actually getting paid at all, and I was scared I’d lose my house and everything.”

Fawn was thankful to have support from her MPTT navigator, Hami Chapman, who stepped in to help get her payments sorted. 

“Hami gave me so much help. He organised a meeting with someone from Studylink to get everything sorted with my student allowance. I ended up getting paid that same week. I was so grateful for Hami’s support.”

Through MPTT’s Learner Support Fund, Fawn has been able to get new chef clogs, which are specialised footwear for workers in the industry. MPTT funded a set of professional knives for Fawn.

“She will be thrilled to have these items that she can call her own,” says Hami. “They will definitely help her in her future culinary endeavours.”

Support from MPTT has helped Fawn overcome challenges that came up during her course, making it easier to stay focused on her learning.
Stepping up to the plate

Studying as a single parent means Fawn needs to stay organised.

“It’s not a problem as long as I have a routine. I’m used to living on a timetable and having everything planned,” she says.

“My daughter’s school and Kiwa are only five minutes apart, and I live about 10 minutes from both of them, so that’s amazing.”

Outside of her studies, Fawn prioritises spending quality time with her daughter.

“We’re involved in the Drury softball team, and we also go to the park or pools for ‘us’ time.”

Like many students, Fawn’s studies in 2020 have been disrupted by Covid-19. However, she plans to complete Level 4 in May 2021.

In the meantime, Fawn is motivated to make the most of her course and build up her skills for her ongoing career.

“I know I’ve got a long way to get there, but I want to run my own business. That’s why I wanted to study hospitality — it’s part and parcel with my goal for the future.”


Interested in studying cookery like Fawn? An MPTT scholarship can help. If you’re Māori or Pasifika and you plan to study hospitality at Level 3 or Level 4, you might qualify for our scholarship programme. Find out more about a career in hospitality.

Our whānau is growing

It was exciting to see some of our latest intake of future tradies gather together this month, after MPTT’s group events had been delayed due to Covid-19. 

Check out these photos of Unitec’s Whanaungatanga Day, where new trainees were welcomed to the whānau and awarded their scholarship certificates and MPTT shirts. 

Tongan sportsman tackles new career

After more than a decade playing professional rugby league and union, Pakisonasi Afu decided it was time to return to New Zealand and take on a new challenge — becoming a builder. His sporting connections have helped him land an apprenticeship, and he’s finding many of the skills he acquired on the field are just as useful on the building site. 

Two years ago, Pakisonasi Afu was making good money playing for the Utah Warriors in Major League Rugby in the United States. Then, he and his wife learned they were expecting their first child — and it changed everything. 

“It sort of put everything into perspective. It opened my mind to knowing that footie’s not always going to be around to provide for my family. I realised that I wanted to have a trade that could eventually become a life skill, that I can use when I retire.” 

“As much as I love footie, I have to find a career that’s going to provide for my family in the long run.”

Known for his power and presence on the field, Paki represented Tonga in rugby league, and played for clubs like the Canterbury Bulldogs, Parramatta Eels, New Zealand Warriors and Sydney Roosters. After switching codes to union in 2017, the 6ft 3in centre shone for Tonga A in the Pacific Challenge, before signing up to play in America. 

He admits it was a big decision to leave a professional sporting career to start again in the trades. 

“It was a huge change. I was getting paid pretty well over there and making that financial decision to come back, both my wife and I had to come to terms with it. But looking back, it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

For Paki, gaining a trades skill is all about being able to support his family long after his playing days are over.
Paki and his wife Abish returned to NZ before the birth of their daughter Asher, who’s now nearly two years old. There’ll be a new addition to the family in early 2021.
Propped up

With his sights set on learning a trade. Paki decided to do a New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (Level 3) with a strand in Carpentry at MIT, and was grateful to discover the MPTT programme. 

“MPTT made the transition back into study a lot easier, because I had that one-on-one time with Hami and Chris (MPTT navigators). I really liked that, especially during lockdown, they’d message or call to make sure I had everything I needed to complete my coursework.”

Paki says that Navigator support helps create a fanau/whanau environment for MPTT trainees.

“Being a Pacific Islander, it’s always good having that extra support. Having that similar connection, but also just knowing in the back of your mind that you have someone there if you’re struggling with anything in class.”

“You have your navigator there to contact, and they’re always willing to talk and offer support. I really enjoyed it and am glad I had their help. I’m glad I found the MPTT scholarship online.”

Paki (second row, centre) with the Junior Kiwis in 2010.
Quick off the mark

Paki knew the best way to get a head-start in the industry was to get some work experience while he studied. 

Although he was new to the trades, Paki’s sporting contacts still came into play – his rugby club had a connection to McManus Building. 

“So I ended up working for them. And then the boss was like, ‘If you’re keen, we’d be happy to have you as an apprentice’. 

“I want to tell our Pacific and Māori young people that there’s connections in sport, not just for sport but outside of sport. Like how I managed to get an apprenticeship through my club’s connections. That’s another avenue our youth can go through to find work in the future.”

Paki’s work at McManus helped him try out skills he’d learned in class, cementing his knowledge of the trade.

“I’d definitely recommend being employed while you’re doing the course. I found it a blessing, because I was able to put everything I learned from my tutor into practice.”

This hands-on experience also helped the 30-year-old learn different techniques, and understand the terminology used on building sites. 

Unexpected hit

Unfortunately, Paki lost his job at the end of September when the deepening economic effects of Covid-19 affected his employer. 

Paki is confident about finding another job though and he’s wasted no time in seeking out a new position. 

“I’ve been in contact with my connections in footie and they’ve put a word out that I’m looking for work to continue my apprenticeship. Now it’s a waiting game to see if we get any interest.”

Paki in action for Kagifa Samoa, putting a big fend on Fijian Latui’s Tara Patterson Wilagi during the 2019 Global Rapid Rugby Pacific Showcase.
Core skills

Although playing professional sport and working in the trades are completely different careers, both fields are hands-on and require some similar skills, he says. 

“I love it eh, because I love physical work. It’s another way for me to stay active and not get too lazy or put on too much weight.”

“In footie, you have to be confident in your ability to play. When you transfer that into building, you might only know so much when you’re learning, but you’ve also got to be confident in yourself.”

Communication skills are essential in both sport and the trades, says Paki.

“In footie you’ve got to communicate, and the same thing applies on the work site. You won’t get noticed until you speak up for yourself on a site. You see that on the health and safety videos, where people let things go but it’ll come back to bite them.”

Passing it on

Paki’s sporting background sparked a passion for helping young people achieve their dreams – something he continues to pursue as he moves into the trades.

“Having that experience of going over to Australia by myself at the age of 16, and living there and seeing what the island kids go through and the struggles they go through, I felt it’s right for me to use my experiences in life to help them.”

While Paki is trying to find a new job, he’ll be doing youth work and mentoring for the Senate Nursing Bureau. 

“It’s what I did before I came into building. We work with kids in trouble, removed from families, that have mental health issues or medical issues.

“I’ll enjoy doing some youth work and looking after our tamariki while I look around for a new job.”

Going forward, Paki hopes to combine his interests to help more young people get into the trades.

“I’m passionate about seeing young kids succeed in life, but also in the trades and on the sportsfield.

“That’s one of my other goals — I want to be a mentor and be able to speak to the youth. I’ve had that passion, I guess, since I started playing professionally.

“I feel that it’s right for me to use my experiences in life to help the young ones.”

Want to know more about the MPTT scholarship and getting qualified in construction? Go here for all the details.