Oceania Careers Academy — OCA —  is on a mission to see more young Pacific people in sustained, higher-paid employment with skills sought after by industry. And it has a unique way of delivering this. OCA is run by Pasifika for Pasifika, so it connects with learners in a style that truly resonates. It means OCA trainees love learning about the trades and setting themselves up for the future, even when they face challenges along the way.  

Care and culture change everything

OCA specialises in training people for the construction industry because they see this as a way to grow prosperity in Pasifika families. They put family and Pasifika values at the heart of everything and wrap around each learner with the support they need.

Tony Atina, Campus Director, says one of the reasons he came to work at OCA is because of the pastoral support. Tony is of Samoan descent and was born and raised in Auckland. He worked in industry as a builder for 17 years, with his own business for 10 years. He has also worked extensively in training development. He says OCA’s approach is very different to what he’s come across before.

“I’ve seen the pastoral support label used elsewhere, but it can mean different things. At OCA, it starts with the family – family involvement – whānau ora assistance; it’s about the whole whānau.”

Our Navigators and tutors give both emotional and practical support. It’s vital we reduce barriers and impediments to our people succeeding, and transport is one of them. Getting to the course can be hard.

“Our Navigators provide transport solutions eg: sort out Hop cards and even leave a couple of hours early in the morning to collect students. Each day they’re out on the road to help people get to their courses. The chats that they have in the van can be quite personal, and that’s important.”

Salesi Vea is studying Level 3 Carpentry at OCA through an MPTT scholarship and is grateful for the support.

He says, “I had a rough patch of my life. I surrounded myself with the wrong people. I got a second chance with OCA. Over time I’ve come to like it – I love it here. The stuff that the tutors do for us is absolutely over the top.

You just know it’s a family; it’s not just a random group of people learning things individually; we are all here as a team and helping each other.”

Flexibility helps overcome barriers

Helping Pasifika students manage their commitments and overcome barriers to studies is top of mind at OCA. Along with pastoral care, they also ensure flexibility in the programme. Tony explains, 

“Not all students can attend a course every day – childcare, shift work etc., can make it difficult. For us, it’s about allowing flexibility but being mindful that there is a programme to complete.”

“Blended learning means people can work but cross reference what they’re doing back into the programme – so if they’re covering things in their work, it can contribute to practical exercises. Tutors can come on-site to do learning assessments. The additional option is that learners can come after hours to do catch-ups.”

Similarly, the tutors ensure that they deliver content and learning so that it’s easy to understand and engages people.

Folototo Peni Motunuu has come from Samoa to complete her Level 3 in Carpentry. She says, “I really enjoyed learning how to make a chair and a toolbox.”

Folototo said she’s grateful for all the help her tutors have given her, and she’s found friends there who support her too.

Praetorian Parkinson, Ngāti Paoa and Ngāpuhi, is also completing his pre-trades Level 3 in Carpentry at Oceania Career Academy and says the teaching style makes a difference.

“I like the way they don’t just bark orders. If you don’t understand something, you can just ask for clarification. You don’t have to sit there and try to figure it out yourself only to fail and have to do it all over again.”

Cultural values lead

As well as going the extra mile for its ākonga, OCA embeds Māori and Pasifika traditions and values.

Tony explains, “We start each day with a prayer and a toolbox meeting. This sets the scene for the day, and it carries into the classroom. We also have mentors around to welcome people and check in where they need it.

“Sometimes people have things going on in their lives before they reach the course in the morning, and this way, someone is there to help them with anything they may need.”

Prae says this care makes a huge difference.

They care about your culture, Māori, or Pasifika. They want to help you and push you through to where you want to be in life.”

Praetorian Parkinson

Salesi says that along with the main trades content, they have lots of opportunities to develop their values and understand their place in the world.

“On Wednesdays, we have the navigation programme. We just started a new leadership piece, which is about self-leadership and what it takes to become a leader on and off the worksite.”

The stats show success

The power of nurturing culture shows as OCA graduates flourish. Since 2015, more than 300 students have successfully completed OCA programmes, and of those, 71% are now working in the industry, and 17% have gone on to higher-level studies.

Harris Laulu, who is a proud Samoan is also studying Level 3 Carpentry. He says it’s about making the most of what OCA offers. “My advice is to make the most of the support.

If you’re studying on the MPTT scholarship, take all the help you can get because it’s coming from people that really want to help you – genuinely.

Salesi agrees and is excited about his future. “If everything goes to plan, I see myself running my own job site”.

“If you’re really driven, just go for it. Take that opportunity.”

Graduation is another step forward

OCA is setting its students up to thrive. Once they complete their pre-trades, their stories are o only just getting started. Finding apprenticeships unlocks a whole new realm of possibilities.

When trainees graduate, there’s a huge flow on effect. MPTT ensures they have a tool kit, making the transition to employment easier. And when they get into work and become qualified, the real change happens. They can contribute to their families and society. They learn how to become self-employed businesspeople; they build financial literacy and capability,” explains Tony. He’s proud that OCA empowers them to do this.

Tony is excited about how OCA is responding to the changing working environment while also keeping its unique and powerful mix of support for learners.

“We’re ensuring that the organisation continuously evolves its approach while retaining the values of what we have. Our training keeps work-based learning at its heart, and we make good changes that are relevant to industry so they can gain relevant skills that they’ll need.

Harris sums up, “By learning the trades, you get to feel free because it’s going to be a good future, and you can use your skills to help other people.”