At just 18 years old, Ben Poutasi lost his father in a tragic car accident. As the eldest of six kids, he took on the role of providing for his family with a job at Burger King, before learning a trade by day and working at night. Now aged 20, Ben is an automotive apprentice with dreams of being his own boss.

For Ben Poutasi, learning a trade was about providing for his aiga (family).

After tragically losing his father shortly after finishing high school, Ben worked closing shifts at Burger King to help pay the bills.

Ben’s father had been a mechanic and a builder, and Ben decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps with his career.

“I thought I better get a trade under my belt, basically to help take care of my family.”

Since helping his mum provide for his five siblings was top of his priority list, Ben needed his training to lead him straight into paid work – something he says is a strength of learning a trade.

“With university you get a degree, but often no-one’s helping you get a job in that field you studied for. I see a lot of my friends with degrees just staying at home, playing on the games.

“Heaps of them end up working in something completely different to what they studied. I think getting a trade is better.”

Streets ahead

As an MPTT scholarship recipient, Ben not only had his course fees paid for, he had career coaching and help finding a job.

“When I found out I had the scholarship, I was still working at Burger King and I was going to try and find an apprenticeship and pay that off while working. I was going to skip the pre-trades course because I couldn’t afford it.”

Ben, who is Samoan, finished his Certificate in Automotive Engineering (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) in November 2017. With help from MPTT Navigator Travis Fenton, he was able to go straight into an apprenticeship at Rangitoto Motors.

“Travis told me Rangitoto Motors was looking for an apprentice – so I went there straight away, printed off my CV and gave it to the boss, and had an interview with him.”

Ben says Travis has been there with advice and support from the start.

“He’s helped me a lot. At first, I didn’t even know how to sign up for the scholarship or enrol for my course, so he helped me with that too. And finding an apprenticeship was pretty hard to do but, thanks to Travis, I found one.”

As an MPTT scholar, Ben also received $1000 to spend on tools when he got his apprenticeship. That helped him buy a tool box as well as some equipment he needs for the job.

He also earned a scholarship from MITO to cover the first year of his apprenticeship fees.

Track to success

Mike Atkinson, owner of Rangitoto Motors, says Ben is excelling as an apprentice because of his willingness to work hard and try new things.

“He’s probably one of the better ones (apprentices) I’ve ever come across,” says Mike. “He has no fear. It doesn’t matter how big or small the job, he’s just keen to do it and he’s keen to learn. He’s definitely a strong part of our team now.”

Mike says Ben’s work ethic, responsibility and maturity beyond his years mean he’ll go far in the automotive industry.

“I see potential for Ben. He could potentially take over from me one day – that’s the angle I’m pushing him towards.”

Ben with his employer Mike Atkinson, owner of Rangitoto Motors
Ben’s boss Mike Atkinson (left) says the industry is crying out for more young people like Ben.

Mike says he’s really pleased to see the work MPTT is doing to help build a qualified workforce in the automotive industry.

“We’re crying out for more skilled young people; it’s so hard to hire good mechanics these days. Anyone who’s helping to address that shortage has my full support.”

Family vehicle

Ben lives with his mum and siblings in their Mangere home and he says their support has been a huge help.

“We’re a close family. My mum’s been there for me the whole way.”

Ben says he’s been encouraging his siblings to consider learning a trade.

“I talk to my sister about it quite a bit. She wants to go to MIT in the future.”

One reason Ben recommends a career in the trades is for the variety of work – he never gets bored.

“It’s great not having to do the same thing over and over again. Every day is different. There are lots of different vehicles for a start, especially with new electric vehicles coming out.”

As a tradie, Ben loves that he gets to use his hands and move around as he works.

“I’m glad I’m not stuck in an office – I’d get bored sitting there all day!”

Staying the course

Completing a pre-trades course at MIT helped Ben prepare for the demands of an automotive workshop.

“They showed us the different parts of a vehicle, which was useful because I knew things like what brake pads were when I started. It was good to have that background knowledge.”

Since starting his apprenticeship, Ben has enjoyed building his skills on the job.

“The practical work is cool. I’ve learned a lot of stuff and it hasn’t even been a year yet.”

As an apprentice, Ben has the added challenge of theory work and assessments to complete.

“The paperwork can be pretty hard, but I’ll get there. All the answers are there so I just need to learn them.”

As an MPTT trainee, Ben will continue to get support right through his training – including advice and mentoring from his MPTT Navigator Travis, to help Ben accelerate in his career.

Thinking of learning a trade? Find out more about MPTT’s scholarships and see if you qualify.

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