Learning a trade takes hard work, and you’ll need to overcome obstacles to get there. That’s why it’s important to be able to bounce back when things don’t go to plan. MPTT trainee Stevi’Lee Furness has had her share of setbacks, but that hasn’t stopped her moving forward. Find out how the mechanical engineering trainee and single mum has overcome having her studies interrupted by pregnancy, and the challenges of getting her career started while raising her son.

When Stevi’Lee Furness began learning a trade, life threw her a curveball.

She was a top student in her welding and fabrication course at Unitec, but had to pull out just weeks before the end of the programme because she was 8 ½ months pregnant.

“It was frustrating not being able to finish. At that point, I’d worked so hard, and then it was a full-stop. But I was so glad I did the course anyway. I was happy to be keeping myself busy and applying myself, looking forward to a better future.”

Despite the setback in her training, Stevi’Lee chose to focus on the positives.

“I acknowledged that this was me moving on to the next step, which was motherhood. Going through that awesome part of my life, too. But I still had this drive that my child needs a reliable, dependable mother who can support him. I had to figure out a way to make good money and love my job,” she says.

“Having a baby gave me that extra drive. I was thinking, ‘You’ve got to do this – your child depends on your education and future jobs’.”

After having her son Caezar (now two years old), Stevi’Lee was back in full-time study five months later. Unitec had made changes to its curriculum in the meantime, so her welding and fabrication training was now part of a mechanical engineering course, which she completed in June 2019.

Her MPTT Navigator, Tu Nu’uali’itia, says Stevi’Lee’s motivation to return to study is an inspiration for other trainees who face obstacles.

“Her greatest quality is resilience – the ability to bounce back from a challenge in her journey to achieving her goal. She’s a real inspiration for single mums who are doing it tough, because of the future she wants for herself and her baby.”

Stevi'Lee with her navigator Tu Nu’ualitia
Tu Nu’ualitia, left, supported Stevi’Lee through her challenges and believes she is an inspiration to other taiura.
Mother nature

When Stevi’Lee first returned to study, she had support from her mum to care for Caezar.

“He stayed with my mum for the days and nights I was studying. It was painful. I spent so much time away from my child. I didn’t have a vehicle yet either, so it was really annoying because I couldn’t pick him up and drop him off.”

It was a struggle to be away from Caezar, she says.

“It sucks to sacrifice that time with him. But at the same time, sometimes you’ve just got to do it. In my position, I’m mum and dad. I’ve got to be the bread-winner and the caregiver.

“I sacrificed so much time with my child, but at the same time, it drove me to keep doing it. Because I can be there for my child but I’m useless if I can’t support him financially in his future. I think I balanced it well, and here I am, finished.”

After having Caezar, Stevi’Lee lived with her mum for the first few months and then moved into her own place.

The 25-year-old is grateful for the support from her mum, which helped her return to study and get her mechanical engineering certificate.

“You do need good support to raise a child while studying or working full time. It just depends how badly you want it. Some mums won’t want to, and that’s okay. It does make a lot of sense having that support – it really helped me.”

Foundational support

As an MPTT trainee, Stevi’Lee also received support through a scholarship and one-on-one mentoring.

“It was honestly so helpful. Plus, it was really cool to go around and say, ‘Guess what? I got a scholarship’,” she says.

Being awarded the scholarship added to her motivation to study and work hard.

“The scholarship isn’t just free money; it’s an incentive because it’s telling you that you’re worth it. Because that’s exactly what it meant to me. Apart from having less of a student loan, a scholarship is something people get from doing really well, and you get picked out of a certain few.

“Being offered that scholarship through MPTT, man, that was awesome. It made me feel really good. Everybody should feel like that.”

The personal support offered by her MPTT Navigator was also valuable.

“I love Tu – he’s awesome. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s straight forward. He doesn’t make false promises and he makes it clear that you have to work for it.”

Driving ambition

Having finished her pre-trade course, Stevi’Lee has faced another obstacle – not having her own transport.

“I’m looking for a job in mechanical engineering, but I’ve needed a car. I’ve had people like my lecturer say, ‘Look, I can refer you on to an employer, but you need to be able to get all the way out to Mt Wellington’. So, I told myself, I really need a car and there’s no other way around it. So I just went and got a part-time job so I could save up for that. I’ve now bought my car, so progress is coming to fruition in my trades journey.

Stevi'Lee Furness
Stevi’Lee has her sights set on becoming a project manager one day, and providing the best possible future for her son.

“Right now I’m working at a local bar, even though I’m not qualified for hospo. But I worked my butt off and proved I can do it. I was quite fortunate to get that job, and it’s close to home. It’s just the next step in putting myself into that mechanical engineering job.

“I would love to do my apprenticeship, and I’m hopeful I can get into project management one day.”

Tu says it’s great to see a young MPTT trainee aiming for a leadership position in the trades.

“It would be a really positive outcome if she did go down that path, because it’s actually leaping forward in her career and showing a lot of ambition. The trades sector needs many more people who believe in their own value and worth to excel and become leaders in the workplace.

“Importantly, our Māori and Pacific people need to see examples of tauira like Stevi’Lee excelling, to be inspired in their own life aspirations.”

Stevi-Lee says it’s important to stay positive when you face setbacks in your training.

“Accept the curve ball. Don’t think that because you’re here right now, you can’t be somewhere else in the future.

“Don’t get disheartened when you come to a road block. It just means you have to figure out a new way around. Where there’s a will there’s a way. You just have to get through whatever the situation is.

“You have to keep looking out for opportunities and don’t give up.”