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. 

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.

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’.

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.

Back on campus after lockdown

Tertiary institutions are now open, with in-person classes gradually resuming. But for some trades students, practical assessments on campus have been happening since Alert Level 3. 

NZMA’s Monique Le Marque, general manager of operations and business development, says small groups of invited students were able to come on campus for practical assessments thanks to careful health protocols. 

There were four cohorts from three trades – two for construction, one for electrical engineering, and one paint and plaster cohort. This included 10 MPTT students.

Monique says trainees were excited to get back into hands-on work after learning from home during the Level 4 lockdown.

“The morning greetings warmed the atmosphere with a glow of enthusiasm, as students were excited to get into practical tasks – whether cutting and nailing timber, wiring switch boards or plastering walls.

“It was good to see the drop saws in action, and hearing students talking and laughing was positive and gave us all a sense of some level of normality.”

The ongoing Covid-19 restrictions at Level 3 did make it difficult for some students to attend in-person classes, she says.

“Students were keen to get back to campus, however limited public transport seemed a challenge for some. With schools closed, childcare and home schooling priorities also prevented some students from attending.”

For NZMA to open safely, students and staff carefully followed public health advice. Each person registered electronically at the foyer on arrival, via a QR code or NZMA’s website. Masks, gloves and sanitiser were available for everyone on campus, and people were asked to bring their own meals and drink vessels. Each small cohort was allocated break times, so they didn’t interact with other bubbles on site. 

In line with the staggered approach the Government has outlined for Level 2, NZMA is gradually phasing in its classes on campus. 

“Even though campuses can reopen, it’s important to remember this is not a return to normal, and we have a responsibility to ensure physical distancing and contact tracing measures take place,” says Monique. 

“A phased approach allows us to manage the risks associated with reintroducing large groups of people in one go, and ensures we can confidently adhere to the Ministry of Health and Education requirements for on-campus learning for all our students and staff.”

This means many students have continued distance learning until the guidelines are reviewed, with only classes that are more practical resuming at first. 

Monique says students have adjusted well to learning from home, and NZMA has loaned devices to those who didn’t have their own to use.

“For some of our learners, online learning seemed difficult to comprehend at first. However, once the first hurdle was bridged and they became more familiar with online learning, they adapted well. 

“Students have been positive about continuing their learning and having a routine to keep them actively engaged throughout the lockdown.”


For more about how New Zealand’s recovery from the coronavirus impacts you and the trades industry, check out our Covid-19 page. We’ve pulled together advice, links and resources for our Māori and Pasifika communities and the trades industry, and we’ll continue to update it as the information changes.

Chance encounter sparks trades career

After studying marketing and working her way into hotel management in Samoa, a lucky encounter saw Flora Rivers take a leap across the Pacific and into the trades. The construction apprentice and MPTT scholar was recently the keynote speaker at the Women in Trades Mini Conference, where she shared her inspiring story with other women looking to join the industry.

Flora’s trades career began unexpectedly, thanks to a broken chair.

She was managing a hotel in Samoa when a guest accidentally damaged the chair, and Flora decided to attempt fixing it.

“And I did. I fixed it,” says Flora. “I was so proud of myself. It looked sturdy and nearly perfect. Except the same guest came around and sat on the chair again, this time completely ruining it. So I had no choice but to throw it away.”

But a couple named Janice and Craig, who were staying at the hotel, saw Flora’s efforts and asked to speak with her urgently.

Flora visited their hotel unit, unsure of what to expect. When she walked in, she was stunned to see a neat spread of tools laid out on the bed, the floor and the kitchen counter.

“They told me they’d seen my attempts to fix the chair, then asked what I thought of the tools in front of me. They hoped I liked them because they were all for me.”

Craig, who was a tradie, then picked up each tool and told her its name and how to use it.

For the rest of Craig’s stay at the hotel, Flora spent her spare time learning from him. They crawled under local houses to inspect pipes and search for defects. They fixed small issues, and created a plan for the bigger jobs to be done in the future.

“Some of those big jobs I hope to one day be able to fly back home and fix myself,” she says.

Family matters

Flora soon began looking into formal construction training. She eventually moved to New Zealand to study at Unitec with help from an MPTT scholarship.

Coming from a life in Samoa where she was surrounded by loved ones, a big challenge for Flora is being apart from her family.

“The most difficult thing for me is having to be away from my family every single day. Not a single day can pass without me wishing I could open the door when I get home from work and see them all there.”

With Flora being “the third stubborn daughter out of five”, her parents soon came around to supporting her unexpected career choice.

“This is not what my parents had envisioned for me. But they supported me when I took the leap alone to New Zealand to pursue a trades career, and continue to support me in my apprenticeship with encouragement and always believing in me.”

Flora discovered her future employer Johnstone Construction at the Women In Trades 2018 conference, where they were hosting a ‘Have A Go’ excavator activity. Impressed by their support of gender diversity in the trades, she eventually joined the team and now holds the title of their first female site crew member.

Women’s work

With the trades still being a male-dominated industry, the MPTT scholarship and Unitec course helped Flora meet other women tradies.

“It was great meeting other girls who were doing the same thing. Knowing I wasn’t alone and seeing other women who were interested in the trades was a huge boost.”

Flora, 25, is now an apprentice at Johnstone Construction, the company’s first female site crew member.

She says women joining the trades should be prepared for some challenges, but shouldn’t try to become someone they’re not.

“You will be forcibly pushed out of your comfort zone, mainly because the industry is still very heavily dominated by men. But don’t worry, you will get used to being surrounded by them and their banter,” she says.

“If I have one recommendation, it’s that you don’t have to pretend to be a male; you can still be a woman and use the tools. You don’t have to try and act or speak the way men do. You can be true to you and be just as good as anyone else – if not better.”

Flora, right, at last year’s Women in Trades Conference

Go figure

As a woman, Flora quickly spotted room for improvement in the gear she had to wear on site.

“The workwear is all geared towards men and their figures, not ours. That, of course, is understandable, but the times are starting to slowly change,” she says.

“Because of my background, I have started to design, and my mother is helping me sew, proper workwear attire for women: work shirts and trousers that suit female figures, and have the required fluro and safety elements. So maybe one day, there will be more options on the market for women in trades to dress comfortably, safely and practically.”

Flora is currently testing her designs on the job, and she hopes to make them available to other women tradies next year.

“It’s quite technical. I want to make sure the pieces last, as well as fit women’s bodies. First I wear it on site to see if it tears. If it does, I go back to mum and talk about it over video so she can make improvements using the right materials.”

Constructing a career

Flora is loving life as a tradie, and enjoys getting outdoors to do hands-on work.

“My office space is forever changing, and is 10 times larger than any fancy enclosed box in a high-rise building. And one day, I’ll probably be able to say I helped build one of those buildings.

“I enjoy being able to get dirty in the best way at work. This is one career where the phrase ‘my blood, sweat and tears’ are all true, and I’ve learned to love it.”

The variety in her job means there’s always something new to capture her interest.

“I love being able to do yesterday’s hard job a lot easier today, and being able to continuously grow and progress in a field without getting bored, because every day will be a challenge.”

Crossing the finish line:
Get qualified on time

Finishing your apprenticeship means you can stop studying and start enjoying being a qualified tradie – including earning more money and having more job opportunities.

But getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint. From your pre-trades course to the end of your apprenticeship you’ll be training for several years, so it’s important to stay motivated along the way.

The exact time it takes depends on your trade, and whether you already have some of the skills you need (like if you’ve worked as a hammerhand). But no matter what your situation, the sooner you get certified, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits. Plus, if you wait too long without progressing, you might need to pay another apprenticeship fee.

Remember, you’re never alone in your training journey – there’s heaps of support to help you get your qualification. So read on for how to ensure you complete your apprenticeship in good time, and what to do when problems come up.

Why get qualified?

It takes work to get your qualification, so it’s important to remember why you’re doing it.

Jodi Franklin from MITO says there are a lot of benefits to getting qualified besides not having to study anymore.

“A lot of things happen when you get qualified. It’s not just a certificate; generally you’re rewarded in the workplace with a pay increase. And the world’s your oyster in terms of being able to take your qualification all over the world. If you want to go and live somewhere else for a change of scenery, you can take your qualification with you.”

On the other hand, if you don’t get qualified, you’ll limit your opportunities and how much you can earn, says Jodi.

“It doesn’t matter how close you get to completing your qualification. Even if you finish 99%, it’s not recognised until you complete it.”

So if you want more money and more mana on the job, and the freedom to take your skills overseas or start your own business, get your certification sorted as soon as you can.

Take away: You need to get qualified to get the benefits from your training, like more money and more job opportunities.
Good timing

When you sign on for an apprenticeship, your training provider (called an Industry Training Organisation, or ITO) will let you know how long it’ll ideally take you to complete your qualification. Depending on your trade, this is usually between 2 years and 4 ½ years of being an apprentice.

But it’s important to know that apprenticeships aren’t just about the hours you spend on site. Instead, you need to show the skills you’ve developed, says Doug Leef from BCITO.

“It’s all about competency. We all learn differently and, as such, progression from person to person differs. A lot of this comes down to the relationships forged on the job site and the quality of training and supervision given to trainees.”

Your employer is responsible for making sure you get the practical training you need during your apprenticeship, says Doug.

“That onus falls on the employer. It’s their responsibility to get trainees qualified. When they sign the apprentice up, we make the employer aware of the scope of work required.”

Take away: Apprentices need to show they have the right practical skills. Your boss is responsible for making sure you learn all the skills you need on the job, but you can help move things along quickly. Have a chat to your boss or ITO training advisor about the skills you need to learn, and make a plan for what you want to get signed off at your next meeting with your training advisor.

Getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint.

In theory

But it’s not enough to just show up to work and do what your employer says. As an apprentice, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s where theory or book work comes in.

“It can be a bit daunting to have all this theory to learn,” says Doug. “But you’ve got to understand the underpinning theory and the reasons behind why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not just throwing houses up; it’s about compliance, accountability and administration.”

The biggest challenge for most apprentices is finding time for their theory work on top of working full-time. Depending on your trade and schedule, you might do your theory work during a block course (where you go into a classroom with other trainees on certain days), a night class after working hours, or at home in your spare time.

“It’s about managing your hours,” says Aimee Hutcheson from Skills. “Most apprentices are flat tack as soon as they enter the industry, so they need to work with their employer to fit in time for their theory work.”

To make sure your theory work doesn’t build up and get overwhelming, make time to work on it regularly, says Jodi.

“The most successful apprentices are the ones who get into a routine. It might help to go along to a night class. Otherwise, you need to find that one night where you’re not playing rugby or busy with other commitments. Even just a couple of hours a week makes a big difference. Doing a little bit and often is the key to success.”

Take away: Make time every week to do a bit of your theory work, so you don’t fall behind. When you regularly do work towards your qualification, you know you’re building your skills and getting closer to being a skilled tradie. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone – there’s heaps of support available, so if you need help or have a question, talk to your boss or training advisor.
Needing help – it’s normal

Many trainees feel whakamā (shy or embarrassed) when asking for help. But the truth is, everyone needs help at some point in their training.

Remember, it’s normal to need to ask questions sometimes, and no-one expects you to know everything.

“We’re all embarrassed to ask for help from time to time,” says Doug. “But you need to put your hand up early. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”

One reason you might need support is if you don’t understand something your tutor says in class. It’s really important to speak up, because no question is a dumb question. Chances are, other students are wondering about the same thing.

“We do have people who have had to resit exams because of the spiral effect of being too shy to ask questions in class,” says Aimee. “Then they’re resitting because they’ve never had the relationship with their tutor to not be whakamā to ask questions and ask for help.”

Having learning differences, like dyslexia, can also mean you need to ask for help. If you’re not sure if that applies to you, don’t worry. Your ITO will do a quick test to see if you’d benefit from help with literacy or numeracy – and there’s plenty of support available.

“You can talk to your employer or tutor if you need help, or your training advisor (from your ITO) is just a phone call away if you have any questions or concerns,” says Aimee.

“You’ve got to build that confidence to be able to ask questions and ask for help if you’re struggling. At the end of the day, we all want you to get through and get qualified, and to feel like you’re achieving as well – to understand what you’re learning, not just check a box.”

Take away: Everyone needs help sometimes, so make sure you speak up if you don’t understand something or are finding anything difficult.
Work worries

At some point during your apprenticeship, you might need to change jobs.

“Some trainees want to change employers because they’re travelling too far for work, or there’s not enough work, or maybe they’re not getting on with people on site,” says Doug. “It’s not the trainee or the employer’s fault – it’s just life.”

It’s okay to change jobs if you need to, but remember that an apprenticeship is an agreement between three parties: you, your employer and your apprenticeship provider. So when you leave your employer, you break the apprenticeship contract and you’ll need to sign another one with your next employer.

Before you change jobs, make sure your new boss is supportive of you doing an apprenticeship, says Jodi.

“You don’t have to stick it out in an employment situation that’s not right for you. And it’s the same if apprentices are laid off because their employer doesn’t have enough work for them or they want experience in other parts of the industry.

“You can change jobs and continue your apprenticeship, if you have the support of your new employer.”

If you’ve already had parts of your apprenticeship signed off and completed, don’t worry. The work you’ve already completed will stay in the system and you can transfer that to your new job.

But remember, changing jobs often takes time, which can delay your progress. For example, your new employer might want you to do a trial for a few months before giving you an apprenticeship. So change jobs if you need to, but don’t do it lightly.

Take away: It’s best to stay with your employer if you can. If you need to change jobs, make sure your new boss wants to give you an apprenticeship.
Need a break?

Sometimes life gets in the way of your learning. If you’re not able to work for a while, then you might be able to take a brief break from your apprenticeship, as long as your boss is on board.

“If you take a short break due to injury, then as long as your employer is aware of it and you’re still employed by the same company, it’s not an issue,” says Doug.

“For example, if you’ve hurt your knee playing rugby and you’re on ACC then we’ll say, ‘This person’s not working; they’re still in their apprenticeship, but their employer and ITO recognise they’re not fit for work’. So we can put your apprenticeship on hold until you can work again.”

But remember, you can’t put your apprenticeship on hold forever. You need to talk to your boss and ITO about why you need a break, and make a plan for when you’ll return.

“Apprenticeships can time out,” says Aimee. “Sometimes you can get an extension, but not by much. If you run out of time, you can be charged a fee because it’s almost like you’re signing up for that year of your apprenticeship again. You can’t just put it on hold indefinitely.”

Take away: If you need a break, talk to your employer and ITO and see if they can support your break from work. Just make sure you don’t leave it too long before you come back to your apprenticeship, because the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to get back into it – plus you might be charged an extra fee.

Want to get qualified on time? Do this

Shannon Ngawharau

Keen to enjoy the money and mana that come with being qualified? With focus and dedication, MPTT alumni Shannon Ngawharau finished his construction apprenticeship in great time. Read on for tips on how you can finish your apprenticeship on time, too.

Most apprenticeships typically take around 3½ to 4½ years. But it isn’t just about the hours you put in. To get qualified, you need to show you have certain skills. That means if you’re motivated, you can finish faster – like Shannon.

Having previously served in the Royal New Zealand Navy, Shannon had leaned how to be disciplined. By working hard and focusing on ticking the right boxes, the 36-year-old completed his construction apprenticeship in around two years. If you’re thinking you could never find that kind of motivation, it might help to know that Shannon has been there too.

“I already did an electrical apprenticeship and that took me quite a long time – about 5½ years. So I know what it’s like to be unmotivated and I know what it’s like to be motivated as well.”

Speed isn’t everything, and it’s important to take the time you need to properly learn your trade. But by doing some of what Shannon did, you can help ensure you finish your apprenticeship in good time – so you can enjoy being a qualified tradie.

Having the goal of being a qualified builder helped Shannon stay focused on completing his apprenticeship.

Building speed

Although Shannon (Ngāti Ruanui) had previously trained as an electronic technician through the NZ Navy, when he signed up to learn construction he was new to the trade. In fact, he hadn’t worked with timber since woodwork class in high school.

After completing a pre-trades construction course at Unitec in 2015, Shannon began his apprenticeship in 2016. This involved signing a three-way contract between himself, industry training organisation BCITO, and his employer Your Home Construction, which specialises in high-end residential and light commercial work.

Having learned the theory of his trade during his pre-trades course, Shannon worked hard to show this knowledge in his paperwork. He also made a plan for what practical skills he’d need to get signed off when he met with his training advisor every three months.

“It was a combination of things that helped me get it done pretty fast. My boss had a wide scope of work available, so I kind of got to choose where I’d work.

“I planned all the practical units that I wanted to get signed off every three months, and worked on those skills before I met with my training advisor.”

Shannon’s boss Charles Lindsay, owner of Your Home Construction, says Shannon’s planning and determination quickly paid off.

“He approached getting qualified like a business, with a goal and a plan to achieve it. His paperwork was flawless. He had photos and everything. You’d be hard pressed to find another like him, I’ll tell you that much.

“I’ve said to all my other apprentices, if you do anything even close to what Shannon did, you’re going to pass with flying colours and get it done in good time.”

Shannon (left) with his boss Charles Lindsay, owner of Your Home Construction.

Constructing a career

From the start of his pre-trades course at Unitec, Shannon was determined to finish his apprenticeship and get qualified.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Once I’d dedicated myself to the course, I knew I wanted to carry on and get my qualification.

“I worked with another guy who did the same course as me and he chose to just work as a labourer, but I went the other way. There was a little bit more work for me to get qualified, but it was always something I was going to do anyway. If you’re working in the industry, you might as well get something out of it at the same time.”

A trades qualification stays with you as you look for jobs or travel the world, Shannon points out.

“Once you have it, you can take it pretty much anywhere. You can go and work in Australia if you like. Your qualification is recognised in a lot of places.

“If I was just a labourer, then every time I got a new job I’d have to prove myself based on my work. But now that I have a qualification, I can back myself up with that, as well as showing them what I can do on the job.”

He encourages other trainees to focus on what they want for their long-term future.

“You just need to have the right attitude if you want to get qualified. You have to think about the end goal, not the short-term goal.

“Visualise that, because there are going to be times when you’re doing long hours or doing the same mundane job – carrying materials around site or whatever – and you just have to keep in mind what you want to get out of it.”

Charles says completing an apprenticeship and getting qualified is a huge improvement to a trainee’s life and career.

“You’ve got to look into your future and think about where you want to be in life. If you want to be a hammerhand, you’re going to plateau at one level for the rest of your life. But if you want to be the boss dog and earn big money, you’ve got to get your apprenticeship done and get qualified. So get your qualification done. Just do it.”

Before each meeting with his training advisor, Shannon planned the skills he wanted to get signed off and made sure he learned those skills on the job.

High rise

Now that he’s qualified, Shannon still works for Your Home Construction and received a pay rise when he finished his apprenticeship.

“At my age I’m just happy working for someone else. I’m currently finishing off a Diploma in Construction Management, so I’m kind of hoping to transition into project management down the track.”

Not having to worry about working towards his qualification anymore is a huge plus for Shannon.

“The big thing for me is that it takes the weight off my shoulders. Now I can relax and learn the craft more instead of having to think about my next meeting with my training advisor.”

There was no big change in how people treated him at work, mostly because his team assumed he was already qualified.

“Charles put me in charge of the sites I was working on anyway, even when I was still an apprentice. I think he knew what type of person I was, you know, and he had an idea that even though I was new to the trade, I wasn’t completely fresh because of my previous experience in the Navy.

“So once I did get qualified, the other people on site were like, ‘Oh true, we didn’t know you weren’t qualified’. They just assumed I was already a qualified builder because they didn’t think an apprentice would be running jobs.”

Shannon’s motivated attitude is what made him a great candidate to run jobs on site, says Charles.

“You can teach building skills, but you can’t train someone’s mindset to be keen. If someone’s not keen, you might get a really good builder out of them, but they’re not going to go that extra distance and push themselves so much.

“Most apprentices just ask, ‘what are we doing next?’ Whereas Shannon was always thinking forward, and that’s the hardest thing to find. A lot of people just go with the flow, but he always had a game plan of what to do next, and he’d even start making a list of materials we’d need for that job.”

Enthusiasm for the job is the main thing employers look for when hiring, says Charles.

“If someone’s keen they’re going to want to come to work every day, they’re going to want to work hard, and they’re going to want to learn. And that’s something Shannon’s had. He just wanted to get qualified and learn everything he could as fast as he could.”

 

 
How to finish your apprenticeship on time – or even faster

  • Make time for your theory work.

    As part of your assessment, you’ll need to show you understand the theory behind what you do. So don’t leave your paperwork until the last minute. Make time to do a bit of paperwork each week, so you stay on top of it and can remember what you learn.

  • Plan the practical work you need to get signed off.

    It’s up to your boss to make sure you learn the skills you need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show initiative. Talk to your boss about the skills you need to get signed off, and how you might be able to do that before your next meeting with your training advisor. Don’t be shy – your boss will likely be impressed by your motivation.

  • Stick with your employer if you can.

    When you change jobs, you break your apprenticeship contract. Even though you can continue your apprenticeship with a new employer, it can take a few months before you sign the new contract. So by staying with one employer for your whole apprenticeship like Shannon did, you’re more likely to finish quickly. If you do need to change jobs along the way, make sure your new employer is happy to offer you an apprenticeship.

For more tips on getting qualified on time, see our blog on how to cross the finish line of your training.

Trade secrets: 3 trainees share their stories

They came to the trades from different backgrounds: high school, office work and ambulance driving. But these three tauira (trainees) have one thing in common – a burning ambition to succeed. Find out why Christine, Marvin and Autalavou are learning a trade, what their goals are and how MPTT’s helping them get there.
Christine Swepson

“It’s a lifelong skill that I can take with me forever.”

Age: 30
Samoan, from the village of Palauli, Vailoa.
Studying: New Zealand Certificate in Electrical Engineering Theory (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology


  1. What attracted you to a career in the trades?
  2. I initially wanted to do carpentry because I was interested in architecture and I thought carpentry was close to that. At the time, I was working in sales at Mercury when this Connexis ad about women in trades popped up on our intranet. It showed something about electrical engineering and I thought that looked interesting. Then it was a toss-up between carpentry and electrical, and I think working at Mercury made me go to the electrical side. I resigned to go and study.

    My background is in office work, so I’ve done a lot of non-physical work. But I had no experience at all in electrical work. I was so green when I came into it, and now my hands hurt from stripping cable! So it’s totally new to me.

  3. What are your goals?
  4. I’m going to start looking for an apprenticeship soon, for when I finish my course in November. I don’t want to leave it too late. I want to get my tools and everything first and put my CV into some places around about July. I’m excited about doing practical stuff every day because, right now, it’s a lot of theory.

    I definitely want to get qualified as soon as possible. I’ll stay and work in New Zealand for a bit and maybe possibly go to Australia – that might be my 10-year plan.

  5. How has the MPTT programme helped you?
  6. My MPPT navigator is Travis Fenton. He’s already helped me with doing a one-page CV. Coming from office work, my CV was a lot longer, so he’s helped me shorten it for what a company is looking for. And he’s also helped with my work profile, which goes to Skills and any possible employers. Having that one-on-one mentoring with him is so helpful.

    Marvin Solway

    “There’ll be plenty of work and the pay’s good.”

    Marvin Solway

    Age: 18
    Māori (Ngāpuhi) and Niuean
    Studying: New Zealand Certificate in Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying (Level 3) at Unitec


    1. What attracted you to a career in the trades?
    2. I’ve always enjoyed doing hands-on things. I don’t really like just sitting down in the office all day, you know? Also, my dad’s a builder. He told me to do a trade but to do something different to him, because if you have three builders in the house and there’s not much work, then no one’s getting any money. I know there’s a shortage of workers in New Zealand. So there’ll be plenty of work and the pay’s good once you get qualified.

    3. What are your goals?

      I want to do an apprenticeship. I’d also like to own my own business one day but I’m not too worried about that now, because that’ll be 10 years away. I’m just taking it slowly, going one step at a time. Having my own business will be good because I can get more Māori and Pasifika into work. I want to help them out. I reckon that would help all of us out a lot.

    4. How has the MPTT programme helped you?
    5. The scholarship has been really helpful and Tu (MPTT Navigator Tu Nu’uali’itia) has been good too. He’s helped me out when I’ve needed it. I’ve always sort of known what direction I’m going in but I know other people might be a bit lost, and having the MPTT navigator there is handy for them. 

      Autalavou Tupuiliu

      “I want to go all the way in this career path – I’m all in.”

      Age: 23
      Samoan, from the village of Faletagaloa Safune, Savai’i
      Studying: New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills – Carpentry (Level 3) at Unitec


      1. What attracted you to a career in the trades?
      2. I’d already worked in carpentry in Niue for five years before moving to New Zealand earlier this year. The builder I was working with, Julio Atoa Talagi, was a graduate at Unitec who returned to Niue passionate to share his skills with the youth. I want to be exactly like Julio: graduate, get certified, live a little and then start my business.

        So, I ended up applying to Unitec and here I am! Back at home (in Niue), I was building residential and I reckon that, right now while studying, I am learning the theory behind the practical work I’ve done.

        I love building. It’s a passion for me. It’s amazing what you look at after you’ve built a house. I used to work as an ambulance officer in Niue for five years. It was amazing to help people but I felt I was meant to be doing more. So, I did building part time and I found out that the difference between these two professions is that you can never build a human body out of materials or bring someone back when they have passed on but you can always build a house and can always mend your house when it’s broken. That was enough for me to choose carpentry!

      3. What are your goals?
      4. To establish my own building business. I know what I have to do. That is why I really want to do well in building. I’m going to get an apprenticeship as soon as I finish the course and I will be a certified builder. After I become a certified builder, I will get established. I want to go all the way in this career path – I’m all in. 

      5. How has the MPTT programme helped you?
      6. Financially, it has helped my family and I a lot. I am grateful! I am also grateful that I’m able to learn and I don’t have anything to worry about later after I’ve completed my studies. 

        I heard about the scholarship when I got to New Zealand. There was word going around that there’s a scholarship for Māori and Pasifika students, and Tu (MPTT Navigator Tu Nu’uali’itia) explained it to me, so I went ahead and applied for it. I’m grateful for the programme. I reckon it’s a good thing.

        Tu’s always following up with our school work, talking to us every day we come to school and pushing us through. He’s really good – he’s always checking up on us, not only for school but also our stuff at home. I know he keeps us accountable.

Apprentice earns national building award

Robert Piutau
Tradespeople do a lot of great work, but it’s not every day they get national recognition for their skills. After delaying his building career for years to be a stay-at-home dad, former MPTT trainee Robert Piutau was stoked – and a little surprised – to win second place in the New Zealand Certified Builders Apprenticeship Challenge this month.
Find out more about Robert’s journey into the trades and how he earned his impressive placing at the awards.

When Robert Piutau found out he’d won second place in a national building competition, it took a few moments for the good news to sink in. “I was at the awards dinner and I heard my name and saw it on the screen – but it didn’t hit me straight away. Then someone behind me said ‘Hey, that’s you’. I think I was in shock that I got a placing.”

Robert competed against 18 other finalists in the New Zealand Certified Builders (NZCB) Apprentice Challenge, held over three days in Rotorua in May. Judges scored the finalists in various areas, including a presentation, an interview, and written material such as their portfolio, cover letter and CV. They also built a catapult as part of a separate promotion with Mitre 10.

“I didn’t think I’d place in the top three,” says Robert, 33. “Especially with the calibre of guys there.” For claiming a podium finish, Robert won $2500 worth of tools, plus took home the Mitre 10 bench tools he used to make the catapult.

“We kind of felt like superstars down there for the way we were treated. It was such an awesome opportunity and I’ve never had that kind of experience before.

“I came away really motivated to persevere and continue my studies and apprenticeship, and then just go on to get qualified.”

Robert and the other apprentices showcased their skill and creativity by constructing a working catapult during the NZCB Apprentice Challenge. Photos courtesy of ITAB Auckland.

Hammer time

To secure his spot in the national competition, Robert first competed – and came out on top – in a search for North Auckland’s best building apprentice.

Nineteen of the area’s most skilled apprentices went head-to-head for eight hours at the regional challenge in April, turning construction plans into a detailed children’s play castle. Each playhouse included a turret and working drawbridge, and was judged by a panel of experts on workmanship, measuring, cutting and assembly.

Robert came away with the highest overall score – but he says it wasn’t an easy challenge.

“At first I was surprised that I won. I had a few challenges on the day and made a couple of major mistakes, but I knew I had to keep going.

“I started differently to the other guys and built it the other way around – starting with the cladding and then doing the frames last. My family came and I pretty much had nothing to show for the whole day. Then in the last half hour I put everything up, and it was all go from there.”

The Mangere resident, who is in the second year of his apprenticeship at ABS Builders, had the added challenge of leading a father-son building event the night before at Kelston Girls College – an initiative of his church, Breakthrough Church.

“I was focused on that and it didn’t finish until around midnight. So it was all go for me on the Saturday of the competition – I only had a couple of hours to go through the construction plans.

“What helped was knowing how well the event had gone the night before. Seeing those kids and their fathers come together and do a project, and just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces – that was priceless.”

Robert Piutau at the Nationals
“I didn’t think I’d place in the top three, especially with the calibre of guys there.”

Robert Piutau at the Nationals
Robert was stoked to be able to keep the tools provided by Mitre 10 Trade for the catapult challenge.

Family man

Although he was introduced to building by his grandfather at a young age, it took a while for Robert to realise he wanted a career in the trades.

The father of four – daughters Edenn (12) and Ayvah (9), and sons Abraham (6) and Joel (7 months) – had been a self-employed courier driver before staying at home to care for his eldest son for more than four years.

“It was a great experience being home with my son. I can honestly say it was the hardest job I’ve done.”

It was during this time that Robert realised he wanted to be a builder, thanks to a visit from his uncle.

“While I was a stay-at-home dad, I gave my uncle a hand renovating my parents’ house. That was when I realised, ‘Man, I’m actually pretty good at this’ – and I liked it too.

“I started helping family out, changing door locks and doing all the odd jobs they couldn’t do. If I didn’t know how to do something, I’d just pick it up and try to figure it out. That’s how it all started for me.”

During the years that Robert took on the bulk of the parenting, his wife Meli was studying to be a nurse. She qualified last year as a registered nurse, allowing Robert to spend more time focusing on his own career.

“We both left our studies late because we weren’t sure what we wanted to do,” says Robert. “But now we’re on the right track. My wife’s found work with Plunket, and I’m finishing my apprenticeship.”

In training

With Robert’s parents being from Tonga – his mum Melenaite from Folaha and his dad Manako from Kolofo’ou – he qualified for an MPTT scholarship. This covered his fees as well as ongoing coaching and support.

“It was a huge help because at the time my wife was still studying. We were getting by week to week without much money, so the scholarship really helped me.

“If I hadn’t got the scholarship, I don’t know if I’d have been able to study. It was a huge opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it.”

Robert completed his pre-trades course at Unitec while working as a builder on Thursdays and Fridays – experience that eventually helped him land an apprenticeship.

“The first year I decided to become a chippy, I had no idea about the terminology. I didn’t know what was what. That one-year course really prepared me for life on the job. It was pretty full-on for me to work as well as study, but we needed the money for our family.”

Seeing the growing need for skilled tradespeople, Robert knew he wanted to get qualified as soon as possible.

“I saw the benefits to doing an apprenticeship and being to learn from someone who’s experienced. I was motivated and pretty much had an apprenticeship lined up by the time I finished the year of study.”

Now that he’s well on his way to being qualified, Robert also likes to let others know about the benefits of joining MPTT.

“I introduced the scholarship to my little brother-in-law. I’d like to inspire other Māori and Pasifika to get into the trades.”

What you can learn from Robert
  • Give things a go – even if you don’t think you’ll succeed. Robert was surprised to win both his regional and national awards – but even though he hadn’t expected to win, that didn’t stop him from getting involved. While you’re gaining experience, it’s normal to worry you’re not skilled enough or not as good as other people. So instead of waiting until you feel ready, aim high and give it your best shot. No matter what, it’ll be great experience – and like Robert, you might be surprised how well you do.