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.”

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.

Working through hard times

When you see someone succeeding in their career, it’s easy to assume their life has always been great. But 28-year-old engineering apprentice Sherya Hetaraka knows from personal experience that isn’t necessarily true. After losing her dad in 2015, she battled depression and had to learn how to ask for help. Find out how Sherya got through the most difficult time in her life – and worked her way into the trades.

A few years ago, Sherya Hetarata’s life looked good from the outside. She had a great job at Griffins Foods, having worked her way up from packer to second-in-command. She was managing a crew of more than 20 people – despite being one of the youngest on the team.

In reality, she was going through the hardest time of her life. Her father had passed away, meaning Sherya lost her best friend and her strongest source of support at the same time.

Although it was difficult, she eventually sought help by talking to her bosses at Griffins.

“It took me a while, but I opened up with my bosses and they were the ones who helped me into seeing a counsellor. Because I got that help and support, I didn’t need to take time off work.”

Opening up

After seeking help, Sherya was diagnosed with depression and started taking antidepressants. She also had fortnightly visits with her doctor and a counsellor for nearly a year.

“I got peace of mind from the counselling,” she says.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like putting my struggles onto family or friends, because I’m the one who they all come to with their problems. My dad was the only person I went to about everything. So once he had passed it got real difficult.

“But talking about it with a counsellor was a lot easier. I knew they didn’t know me at all, so I felt like they couldn’t judge me.”

Mental health challenges are common in New Zealand, with nearly half of Kiwis experiencing a mental health problem in their lifetime.

If you’re having a difficult time like Sherya was, the most important step is to ask for help.

“Talk about it. It gets easier. Focus on yourself instead of trying to make other people happy. That’s where I think I was depressed quite a bit, because I was too worried about how to fix everyone else’s problems and not my own. Talking about it helps heaps, plus doing something you enjoy.”

If you’re going through a hard time, it’s important to seek help and remember you’re not alone.

“At times it might seem hard and you might think you can’t do it,” says Sherya. “But don’t be shy to ask for help because everyone needs help sometimes.”

Top Trainee, Sherya Hetaraka
Sherya was awarded top trainee for Mechanical Engineering at the MPTT Exit Event held in July 2018.

Choosing the trades

While Sherya was working on her mental health, she was also thinking about a career change.

“I had a good job but it wasn’t something I could see myself doing for another 10 years. I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in my life and how I could make my dad proud.”

Sherya, whose iwi is Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahu, took time to think the decision through and spoke to her boss about the potential career change.

“I was stuck between engineering and social work. I’ve always wanted to help others, especially kids – mainly troubled youth with very tough backgrounds. I wanted them to know that someone cares and that things aren’t always gonna be hard.

“So I sat down with my boss. His wife was a social worker so they had done a lot of youth activities, youth camps and helping out the homeless. He explained that it’s one of the hardest jobs you can have. You need a strong heart that cannot be broken so easily due to the fact you can’t get emotionally involved.

“Hearing everything he said, I knew mentally it would take a toll on me because seeing struggling kids breaks my heart.”

Sherya had dabbled in engineering at Griffins, and the support she received from engineers in her team convinced her the trades was the right path.

“A lot of the engineers helped me out and I learned how to fix my own problems on the machines. Engineering was something I thought I might enjoy doing as a job.”

“I like taking things apart and putting them back together. I’ve always been like that. The job is exactly what I used to do when I was a kid – take things apart, put them back together. Only now it’s more extreme.”

In 2017, she handed in her resignation and began studying Mechanical Engineering Level 3 at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

Giving back

While studying engineering, Sherya discovered that trades skills are a great way to give back to the community. She joined a volunteer project organised by MPTT, where she and other trainees did some mahi for RāWiri Community House in Manurewa.

“Our project was to restore their community vege garden that was destroyed from a car driving through their fence and straight over their vege garden boxes. We weeded all the planter boxes, trimmed back all the harakeke around the community house, fixed all the planter boxes, painted the fence and replanted all the veggies.”

For Sherya, the best part was meeting the workers at the community house.

“They are amazing at what they do. These ladies do a lot of mahi for our homeless. They bathe them, feed them and care for them every week. Being a part of the project was one of the best experiences I’ve had since I started studying.”

Having finished her pre-trades course, Sherya has now been awarded a valuable three-year engineering apprenticeship at Griffins and is on her way to getting qualified.


Where to get help
Your doctor

If you think you need help, a good place to start is with your GP. They can assess you, help you make a plan for your treatment, and connect you with mental health professionals like a counsellor or psychologist.



Helplines mean you can kōrero with a trained person over the phone for free. You can talk about how you’re feeling, or what to do if you know someone who may need help.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline – 0800 611 116
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email


Websites that can help
  • – an online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed
  • – includes The Journal online help service
  • The Lowdown is a website to help young New Zealanders understand depression and anxiety from their own perspective.


If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

‘I’ll make my whānau proud through my mahi’

Photo credit: Cameron Pratt

Waru Pairama started his trades training by enrolling in a construction course. But having already worked in other industries, he quickly realised he was ready for employment in the trades. Here’s how Waru turned his organisational skills and proactive attitude into an apprenticeship, and how he plans to give back to his whānau and community.

For Waru Pairama, becoming a builder is about much more than just earning a living. The 21-year-old apprentice has a vision to make a difference in his community, especially among the youth.

“In the future, I’d like to give back to my iwi and my community. You see a lot of young people now not going down the right track, getting into drugs, gangs, that kind of thing. I’d like to be an example for them, whether it’s going into schools or to a marae. I want to show them what you can achieve by learning a trade,” says Waru.

“I also want to give back to all my whānau that have been involved in my life and show that all the time and support they put into me wasn’t a waste. I’ll make them proud through my mahi.”

Ticking the boxes

Waru, whose iwi includes Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui and Ngāti Whātua, had spent six years in Australia playing rugby league and working odd jobs. He returned home to Aotearoa in late 2016 to be closer to his whānau and focus on his career.


MPTT Scholarship Awards
Waru is awarded his MPTT scholarship early in 2017

In February this year he began a Certificate in Construction Trades – Carpentry Level 3 at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), and was awarded an MPTT scholarship. Early on in his course, Waru attended an MPTT event where he found out about the possibility of getting an apprenticeship – a job that includes the training required for a qualification.

By having solid work readiness skills, he managed to land an apprenticeship after just a few months.

“I think it was just, you know, being organised. I had my drivers licence, I had a car, I had good references – my manager and rugby league coach backed me and said I had a good attitude. It was about ticking all the boxes.”

Aiming high

MIT relationship manager Naomi Tito says she wasn’t surprised when Waru quickly found employment.

“He was extremely proactive in moving forward and securing an apprenticeship, and as a result was offered full-time employment with KB Construction. Within a month, the company offered him an apprenticeship.

“What impressed me with Waru is that he knows what his goals are. He is an example for his family and for many of his fellow students.”
Waru is currently focused on getting qualified through his apprenticeship, which is being managed by BCITO and is expected to be completed by 2020.

As well as working on his construction skills, Waru also attends Te Reo classes two nights a week. “I’m enjoying learning, and progressing slowly. It’s about getting back in touch with my Tikanga Māori.”

Hands-on experience

Waru says his upbringing showed him what hard work is all about, and he’s always enjoyed being outdoors.

“Growing up in New Zealand, I was on the marae around my whānau in the kitchen seeing them doing the mahi. That gave me an insight into practical hands-on mahi.

“Now that I’m working in construction, I love it. The senior builders really take the time to sit me down and run me through things. It’s fun being on the tools.”

He says having his fees paid for by MPTT, as well as support with finding employment, has been a huge help.

“It kicked me off really – MPTT was my support base. Naomi has been awesome. She helped me work out what direction I wanted to go to in terms of learning a trade. I didn’t really know what I needed to do, or what would put me in the best position to get the opportunity.”

Do you enjoy hands-on work like Waru? Find out more about a career in construction.

Waru Pairama (right) enjoys an MPTT event with his friend

“You gotta want it”

Jerome Ramsay started out as a labourer, before deciding to get more skills under his belt through a trades qualification.

With help from MPTT Navigators, Jerome made contacts in the construction industry and found an apprenticeship. His hard work is paying off. Last year, Jerome was awarded the Carpentry Student of the Year award and is well on his way to being qualified.

“It’s a snowball effect – once you’re in a good place where you’re showing up to work every day, it boosts your confidence.”

Jerome Ramsay has made some big life changes to build his future in the trades. He shares his story in this video.


Video Transcript:
Jerome: I was labouring here and there and I never really thought about getting a qualification under my belt. I decided if I really wanted to make it in life, there were a few bad habits I had to kick. A few skills I had to learn.

A key moment was enrolling in Unitec, I didn’t know what was in store for me. It was a wonderful experience for me. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I got the 2016 Carpentry Student of the Year Award, which was a big honour for me, I worked hard for it. I turned up on site early, always packing up gear.

They gave us a directional pathway and did a lot of networking for me, I got to meet a lot of good contacts in the construction industry. In terms of employment it gave me a really good head start.

I’m a registered apprentice, so I am getting my practical out of the way. I hopefully will be qualified within a couple of years. I work for Ingrown Construction, a small company but they are very thorough. Rick is a good fellow, he likes his work done fast and proper.

Rick (Employer): I think the first day I met him (Jerome), I said, “We start at 7am.” He said, “That’s brilliant, I’ll beat you hear every day”.
Its good. Jerome’s keen to learn, keen to know, that’s all you need really, the want, the drive.

Jerome: In terms of employment, (you need) the right attitude when approaching work. Things like work readiness, they’re just small but necessary steps.

You have to be drug-free. You can’t turn up to site hungover from the night before, it’s not a very professional outlook. You know you have to be functional onsite.

It’s like a snow-ball effect. Once you’re in a good place where you’re showing up to work every day, it boosts your confidence and you really want to get stuck in and become more dedicated than you were before.

Unitec and Māori and Pasifika Trades Training provided me the skills and resources for me to achieve throughout my academic studies.

You’ve got to want it, that’s the only way to succeed, you either want it or you don’t.
I’m out there every day, doing what I do.

Back to her roots

Camille McKewin’s love of horticulture grew out of fond memories of gardening with her grandfather. She’s now using her skills to build a gardening business that gives her the freedom to spend plenty of time with her young daughter – who in turn is developing a keen interest in plants.

Hearing Camille McKewin talk animatedly about gardening, you’d think she was born with a passion for it.

So it’s not surprising that Camille’s whanau suspect her love of plants is in the genes. After all, her grandfather had a green thumb and tended to the many plants on the family’s property in Green Bay, Auckland.

“We had so many fruit trees – feijoas, guava, grapes, heaps of things,” says Camille, who is Australian Māori. “I really love the memories of that and all it took for my grandfather to maintain it.”

Her grandfather passed away when Camille was nine years old, but her memories of him are still strong.

“I remember being seven and eight years old, following him around the garden, learning heaps and chewing on sugar cane.”

Searching for more

Camille, now 30, tried out a few jobs – such as training to be a chef and working at a childcare centre – before she found her dream career. But when she began studying horticulture and landscaping at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), she knew she’d found her calling.

“I was always searching for more, something more stimulating. Taking up horticulture, I see the world in a whole different way. I look at plants differently, I look at food differently – I look at a lot of things differently that before I would have taken for granted.”

Once she began her training, Camille discovered the horticulture industry is much wider than she’d initially thought – from landscaping and growing plants to Māori medicine and pest control.

“I realised horticulture isn’t just about learning how to grow some potatoes. It actually opens up so many other doors.”

Philip Sutherland, one of Camille’s tutors at MIT, says she showed horticultural flair from the start.

“Camille was always engaged, interested and ready to get involved and get stuck in. She was a bit like a sponge – she just couldn’t get enough knowledge quick enough,” says Philip.

“She was confident in her ability and knowledge and prepared to back herself. That showed strength of character. She has a real can-do, go get ‘em attitude.”

Getting qualified

Camille completed an introduction to horticulture and landscaping (level 2), followed by a level 3 course on the subject. As it happened, those courses were both free.

Although she wanted to go on to complete level 4, Camille couldn’t afford the course fees.

“I’m a solo mum, so at the time I was like, ‘I really don’t want to have a student loan’.”

But then she discovered her fees would be covered by an MPTT scholarship.

“It made a huge difference. I wouldn’t have been able to take level 4 if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship. It helps a lot; it takes a lot of pressure off.”

Hands-on experience

To clock up some experience and get started in the industry, Camille began working while she was studying.

This included tending the gardens at MIT over the holidays and working in neighbourhood gardens with another horticulture student.

“We were both really keen on getting out there and making money, so I was doing garden work with her for low income earners.”

Now that she’s qualified, Camille splits her time between working on these shared projects and growing her own business.

So far, she’s found plenty of work through word-of-mouth and via local website

“There are so many people looking for someone to tend to their gardens. Elderly people or those who are unable to get out there really want help in their gardens – especially when you take care in the job you’re doing.”

Family tree

One benefit of working for herself is that Camille can choose to work during school hours, allowing her to spend more time with five-year-old daughter Madelin.

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Camille McKewan
Like her mum, Madelin is soaking up information about plants and how they grow.

“She’s telling her teachers about it and she thinks she knows everything now about how you plant something and why you plant it,” says Camille.

“She’s obtained some of the knowledge I have, which is great because I think it’s something this next generation really needs to take into consideration. Not many people know much about food and where it comes from. People take it for granted.”

Camille encourages other people with a curiosity about the industry to give it a go.

“We need it more than ever now that the world is changing and to feed the growing population. It’s about the knowledge and know-how of providing for ourselves, our whānau and our future. We need more people in the horticulture industry who are passionate about it.”

Young mum inspired by The Block

Sarah Peraua had never thought about becoming a builder – until she watched The Block on TV. Inspired to start a new career, Sarah is now using her skills to give back to her family and community.

Before Sarah Peraua started training to be a carpenter, the young mum from Auckland had barely swung a hammer.
“I wasn’t really into woodwork at school and I didn’t find it interesting. I was more into sewing,” she says. 

That all changed one evening back in 2014 when Sarah, who was out of work at the time, happened to watch The Block on television.

“As soon as I saw The Block, I thought, ‘That looks cool!’ I was really interested in seeing how everything is built, how a house comes together.”

Getting started

Sarah, a Cook Islander, looked into doing a carpentry course and heard about the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training scholarships.

“I was so happy when I got one. It gave me that extra push to make sure I finish the course. Because I’m on a scholarship I don’t want to waste that money.”

She completed her Level 4 Certificate in Applied Technology at Unitec last year – but juggling motherhood and study wasn’t easy.

“It’s been challenging and a bit hectic at times. Learning to use powertools has also been quite difficult for me.”

Family first

Pushing her forward all the time is Sarah’s desire to provide her son Ronny, aged 5, with a stable future.

“I’m pretty driven to be a role model for my son. I’m going to have early mornings and late nights, but in the end it’ll all be worth it.”

Although her parents were a bit skeptical about their daughter entering a male-dominated industry, the difference in Sarah’s confidence and mood has been obvious.

“She seems to be a lot happier now. It’s a big change really,” says dad, Ora.

Looking ahead

Sarah also dreams of using her trade to benefit others in the future. She was part of a team of trainees that volunteered their time and skills to build a retaining wall at Onehunga Primary School last October.

“It’s really nice helping others,” she says.

Fired up to work in Auckland’s booming construction sector, Sarah is now waiting to be offered a three-year apprenticeship through BCITO.

“My goal is to be a qualified builder within the next five years or so.”

And does she dream of building her own house, like on The Block?

“Probably in the next 30 years, once I’ve gained enough experience!” she says.

Fixing cars to fix his life

After getting kicked out of school at age 15, this Tongan-born Aucklander has come a long way. Here’s how Samson Tuituu turned his life around and recently used his hands-on skills to make a difference in cyclone-ravaged Fiji.

Samson Tuituu could never have dreamed he’d be building homes for cyclone-affected families in Fiji this year.

After being kicked out of school at age 15, he drifted through life, getting in and out of trouble and going from one unfulfilling job to the next.

Apart from playing Auckland-rep rugby league, Samson didn’t feel he had much to be proud of.

But at the age of 30, after one particularly bad run-in with the law, Samson decided it was time to turn his life around.

He enrolled in a Certificate in Automotive and Mechanical Engineering (Level 3) at Manukau Institute of Technology, with his fees fully covered by Māori and Pasifika Trades Training: Auckland (MPTT: Auckland).

“I’d always enjoyed rebuilding engines and building cars from scratch. I was brought up doing that with my parents, friends and other family members,” he says.

“But I was a bum, working in factory jobs and stuff. Then I wanted to change my life completely and go back to what I got brought up doing – fixing cars and stuff.”

Switching gears

Samson started the course in February and has loved it. He’ll soon have a formal qualification to his name.

“I’m really proud of myself for achieving a goal. Even my parents are really proud,” he says.”

“I really like stripping engines apart and trying to find out what the faults are, and fix the problem.”

Samson will complete Level 4 next year and then set off on his new career path.

“I want to work as an apprentice and then move into full-time work for years, and then move into being a tutor to give back. I want to help the younger generation so they don’t go down the path I was on.”

Making a difference

So, how did this Papatoetoe resident end up doing charity work in Fiji this September?

Thanks to sponsorship from MITO, Samson’s been able to join a team of MPTT: Auckland trainees helping with the post-Cyclone Winston rebuild. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the 16-strong team is building two new homes for low-income families.

“There are a lot of reasons I wanted to come on this trip. Firstly, I’ve never been here before, and also I want to get the experience of this rebuilding in Fiji. I want to help build a house and get to meet new people and enjoy the trip as much as I can.”

He couldn’t believe it when told his trip would be fully funded by MITO.

“I just want to thank them so much for sponsoring me and giving me this opportunity to visit Fiji and help give back.”

He’s also grateful for his MPPT: Auckland scholarship.

“It’s very useful and it’s helped me a lot because I couldn’t afford $5500 for the course.”

Samson says he’s happy he went through a bad patch in his life because it’s shaped who he is now.

“It’s made me a better man and showed me the hard times. I had to walk away from a lot of my old friends, but I want to go back and help them one day.”

You gotta do what you’re passionate about

Ngapo Wehi knew he didn’t want to be stuck in an office, so he decided to learn a trade. He’s now doing practical work he loves – and encouraging others to do the same.

Ngapo Wehi has never been an inside person, so when most of his mates headed to university, he decided to try a trade instead.

“At first I was going to go to university too and study sport and recreation. But I knew studying indoors wasn’t for me. Some of my other mates were doing building, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

Paying it forward

Ngapo, whose iwi includes Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Apanui and Te Whakatōhea, studied building at Unitec and had his fees paid through a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training.

He’s now two years into an apprenticeship with Constructa Built Ltd and enjoys his work so much that he tells other young people to consider a similar path.

“I’ve been encouraging a lot of my younger cousins, and even my friends’ younger siblings, to do a trade. It’s sort of like you’re studying for a degree but you can work at the same time – that’s what I like. You don’t have a $30,000 student loan to pay off at the end of it,” he says.

“It’s pretty cool to do something I enjoy and get paid at the same time.”

Future focused

Once he’s qualified, the 22-year-old plans to keep working for his current employer for a few years, to make sure he’s got a solid grounding in his trade.

“Then I want to start a business and go out on my own. Ever since I started working, the other guys were telling me that’s the way to go. Not only can you earn good money, it’s a good challenge for yourself.”

Ngapo, who lives with his partner and their six-month-old son, says it’s important to find work you enjoy because you’ll spend a lot of time doing it.

“You gotta be doing what you’re passionate about, and be in something you can see yourself doing every day. If you’re really passionate about being outside and seeing something through from start to finish, it’s awesome being in the trades.”

Women can do it

As a young woman, Kelsie McKenna faced doubts – from herself and others – when her passion for timber led her to train as a carpenter. But despite concerns about how she’d fit into the male-dominated sector, she soon discovered a “really positive atmosphere”, great workmates and hands-on work she loves.

When Kelsie McKenna decided to become a builder, there were plenty of naysayers.

“It was hard because everyone around me was saying ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? Have you thought it through?’”

Breaking stereotypes

Being a young woman meant Kelsie faced a lot of doubts – from inside and outside – about her ability to foot it in the male-dominated trades sector. Was she strong enough? How would the men treat her?

“Those negative thoughts got to me for a while but I decided to put them aside and go for it because you only live once.”

Now more than half-way through her Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4), Kelsie wonders what all the fuss was about.

“I haven’t come across any problems at all. It’s a really positive atmosphere. The guys I work with treat me the same as all the other guys and that’s what I want. Just because I’m a female doesn’t make me special or anything.”

Kelsie, aged 19, strongly believes more women should consider a career in New Zealand’s booming trades sector.

“I think the trades is for everyone. Women can do it. I really didn’t think I could do this but I’m doing it today and I love it. I know some women think strength is an issue but you can build your strength up on the job.”

‘A passion for timber’

Kelsie’s reason for becoming a builder was pretty simple.

“I just had a passion for timber. Me and my dad have done a lot of ‘wooding’, where we go out into the forest and cut up timber and take it for firewood. I’ve always found that fun. And just doing little projects with my dad around the house, like building fences.”

Having now spent a bit of time on building sites – for example, helping build the Waiheke Sculpture Trail – Kelsie has discovered other benefits of the work.

“I love working outside and I just love working around the people in this trade, like the plumbers, electricians, and the builders. Also, I love using powertools.”

Laying the foundations

Before starting her carpentry training at Unitec in July 2016, Kelsie was living in Dunedin trying her hand at various jobs.

“I worked in a few areas like travel and tourism, then applied for the carpentry course up in Auckland thinking ‘I probably won’t get in’,” she says.

“I just had to give it a go, otherwise I’d still be in Dunedin doing what I was doing beforehand and that was boring.”

Being Māori and Samoan, Kelsie heard she might qualify for a scholarship from MPTT Auckland.

“I wasn’t even going to apply because I thought ‘I can’t get a scholarship’. It was a pretty exciting feeling and I felt very privileged because it means I’m debt free when I walk out of my course with this certificate.”

Kelsie is due to finish her Level 4 Certificate in June this year.

“After that, I want to be doing my apprenticeship. That’s the next thing. Finding an employer who will take me on.”

Don’t leave it too late like I did

Jaxon Kuvarji had a decade of experience in the automotive trade – but with no qualifications, his career options were limited. After finishing his pre-trades training in 2014 and finding an apprenticeship at Mayne Automotive, he’s now well on his way to his dream career.

Get qualified as soon as possible – that’s Jaxon Kuvarji’s message to those looking to learn a trade.

“Don’t leave it too late like I did. If you’re thinking about doing it, do it. Don’t just sit there thinking, ‘Oh, I should get onto it one day’.”

The 28-year-old, who’s soon to get his automotive qualification, has around 10 years’ experience in the industry. But he says getting that piece of paper to confirm he’s qualified will undoubtedly accelerate his career.

“I’ve got friends who are at the same stage as me now in their career, but they’re six or seven years younger than me. If I’d done my qualification when I was their age, I’d be so much more set,” he says.

“Having a qualification makes it a lot easier to get a job. If you approach a new employer and say, ‘I’m not qualified, but I’ve got 10 years’ experience’, you’re sort of starting from the bottom again. If you’ve got that piece of paper in your hand, it throws you a couple of steps up the ladder.”

Gearing up

Jaxon had always been interested in cars, and as a youngster enjoyed helping his dad do vehicles up to sell them. But he hadn’t seen it as his future career.

He looked into being a pilot and joining the Air Force. When those doors didn’t open, he began working in the automotive industry.

Jaxon, who is of Māori heritage, has now clocked more than a decade of hands-on experience, including more than three years with his current employer, Mayne Automotive.

Getting qualified

Two years ago, with a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training, Jaxon began working towards his formal qualification through Manukau Institute of Technology and he’s currently finishing up the required unit standards at Unitec.

He hopes to be qualified by the end of the year, and is looking to follow up with a management course.

“Then I can be the boss man and get off the tools a bit. As a manager, I’d be overseeing the operations in the workshop.”

Eventually, Jaxon wants to open a workshop of his own but for now he’s enjoying learning all he can at Mayne Automotive.

“It’s been really good. They look after me really well and I’ve learned a lot. When I first went there I thought I knew a lot about cars, but it’s opened up a whole new avenue.”

Nurse carves out new career in carpentry

Elizabeth Cruickshank had spent 12 years as a registered nurse, but she couldn’t shake her dream of being a carpenter. The 35-year-old took the bold step of changing careers in 2014 with help from an MPTT scholarship.

Elizabeth Cruickshank’s dream of being a carpenter nagged her in the most unlikely moments.

Even while using her nursing skills to care for people in the wake of Samoa’s massive 2009 tsunami, her mind was partly elsewhere.

“A lot of the time I’d be cleaning and dressing wounds but watching the rebuild happening outside. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could be doing the rebuild instead of this’.

“I guess I’d reached burn-out; I’d worked in almost every area of nursing but I just wasn’t content.”

A new skill set

Elizabeth, who is of Samoan heritage, finally decided to take a bold step and change career in 2014, after 12 years as a registered nurse.

When she found out about the support she could get through Māori and Pasifika Trades Training, it was an added incentive to follow her dream.

“I was at the point where I was going to go back and retrain but I’d already prepared myself for the fact that I’d be living on a very limited income. So it was a massive bonus to have my fees paid for.”

Elizabeth, 35, was partly attracted to carpentry because of early memories of her father, who left for England when she was seven years old.

“He used to do renovations, and I guess there’ll always be a connection to him in that sense.”

In June she will complete Level 4 of her training at Manukau Institute of Technology, which will be followed by an apprenticeship. Her ultimate dream is to become a property developer or manager.

She enjoys the practical nature of carpentry, and working in an environment where she can make use of her skills while being trusted to do a good job.

“They treat us like employees, not like beginners. In building, you’re not going to be competent until you’ve done it. It’s completely different to nursing because instead of learning on live patients, you can learn through timber, steel and power tools. And while that can be potentially life-threatening, the danger is mostly to yourself and colleagues – which can be carefully managed.”

Elizabeth has recently moved back to live in her childhood home in Mt Roskill, where her carpentry skills are already coming in handy.

“There are a lot of things that need fixing that I wanted the practical skills to do.”

Challenging stereotypes

Working in a male-dominated industry has brought challenges, but she deals with it by getting on with the job.

“To be honest, I still come across a lot of men who would prefer me not to be there. And I don’t mind because I understand how it rattles people. I think that’s just their own limitations.”

Elizabeth makes an effort to encourage other women interested in the trades to sign up for the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme.

“There are quite a few female labourers on our site, and a lot of them are Pasifika and Māori. Whenever I talk to them, I ask if they’ve ever considered trades training and say they should give it a go, especially if they can have their fees paid. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t know they can get a scholarship.”