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.”

‘We were chiefs – we’re a people of leaders’

After more than 47 years in the trades industry, Mark Katterns has some advice for new trainees. Get help from a mentor, show up to work on time – and live with your mum. Find out how the project director at Hawkins climbed the career ladder in his trade, and how you can do it too.

Mark Katterns believes it’s important to dream big. It’s not about just getting a job – it’s about becoming a leader in your industry.

But how? He says the keys are to commit to your mahi and find someone to look up to who can show you the way forward.

“Don’t do what I did and get into a flat with the boys, ‘cos you’ll end up getting into trouble,” he jokes. “You should stay at home with your mum. Live there for as long as possible.”

On a more serious note, Mark (Nga Puhi, Ngati Kawa) says Māori and Pasifika are often natural leaders but trainees need a mentor, like the MPTT navigators, who can guide them towards those leadership roles.

“When Māori and Pasifika get confident in what we do, you can’t stop us. That’s why we were chiefs. We’re a people of leaders.”

Leading the way

Mark, who now directs and manages large projects for construction giant Hawkins, credits his mum as being his first mentor.

As a young teenager growing up in Waitangi, his only career plans were to follow in the footsteps of most people he knew.

“I thought I’d work at the freezing works in Moerewa in the Far North, or end up working in forestry with my uncles and cousins.”

In the meantime, Mark had fallen in with a wayward crowd and was getting up to mischief. But when he turned 15, his mum intervened. She put him on a bus to Auckland to learn a trade through the Māori Affairs Trade Training scheme, in which the MPTT programme has its roots.

“Having a role model is so important. I was the oldest son and my mum saw something in me, so she was my mentor to start with. It’s important to have someone to look up to, because they will show you the way.”

Mentors, such as MPTT’s navigators, help trainees get more confident with finding a job and can show them the way forward when they’re not sure what to do next, says Mark.

“When Māori and Pasifika go for our first job interview, we tend to be a bit whakamā (ashamed or embarrassed). But a mentor will help you through that process and speak up for you. They’ll help you get to that next level when you’re not sure how to move forward.

“We want every MPTT trainee to be a leader and be confident enough to be out there inspiring other youngsters one day.”

Just in time

Once he got started in the construction industry, Mark found other mentors along the way.

One of those people was Gil Davies, who worked as a project manager at Hawkins. He taught Mark another important key to success – showing up to work on time.

“He used to come around in the morning and wake us up for work. He’d pull us out of bed and take us to the job site because he believed in us. I hooked onto this guy because he could see what I was about. Trainees who commit to showing up to work on time will stand out and be noticed by the leaders,” says Mark.

“To succeed, you need the work ethic. If you’re not on that waka then you might as well not come. You’ve got to be there ready to work at 7am and not looking to finish work early – we leave at 4:30pm, no sooner.”

Mark Katterns inspiring the new group of trainees for 2019 inside the Te Noho Kotahitanga Marae at Unitec

Team effort

At age 19, Mark joined Hawkins as a carpenter and began to work his way up.

Marriage and starting a family added to his motivation to succeed, and the company soon recognised his hard work and supported him to take on site management roles.

He has since been involved in projects such as the award-winning Auckland Art Gallery, the Auckland War Memorial Museum atrium, and the $109 million redevelopment of Middlemore Hospital.

But even as a project director who isn’t ‘on the tools’, Mark prefers being on site to working at a computer.

“I love my job because I still get to have that contact with the tradies. Being on site is like being on a marae because it’s a big collection of people – a team working together to build something.”

Mark says what drives him now is a passion to be a mentor for the current generation of Māori and Pasifika tradies.

He helped spearhead a mentoring programme for Māori and Pasifika at Hawkins, which provides opportunities for career development and learning new skills.

“Once you’re hooked into a trade, we get you a mentor. That’s what I needed when I was young. At Hawkins, we call those mentors ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’.”

So far, Hawkins has taken on 78 Māori and Pasifika trainees. Of those, 45% are from the MPTT programme and 17% are women – a relatively high percentage in the traditionally male-dominated industry.

For Mark, the mentoring programme is a way to give back and pass on some of the opportunities he received when he got started in the trades.

“I didn’t get here because of myself,” says Mark. “If I didn’t have a mentor, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Supporting more Māori and Pasifika women into the trades – at an MPTT celebration event in July 2018