WelTec's inaugural carpentry course for Pacific Island trainees has been judged a huge success.
Fourteen from an original class of 18 graduated last week, and six have already lined up work or further training.
Every year five or six WelTec classes - of 16-20 students each - undertakes 34 weeks of pre-trade training at level 3 of the Certificate in Carpentry. To bolster classroom theory, the trainees build houses on the former Petone College campus. The houses, which double as an assessment tool on trainee progress, are sold to cover the cost of materials.
Head of WelTec's School of Construction, Trades and Horticulture, Neil McDonald, said Pacific Islanders tend to be under- represented in class intakes. If they come to open days they might be too shy to step forward and ask questions or enrol.
Some Pacific parents judge that attending university should be their sons' and daughters' goal rather than a career in a trade and having English as a second language can also be a barrier, Mr McDonald said.
The Pacific Trades Training initiative helped sidestep such issues. Around New Zealand the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) funded 320 Pasifika Scholarships in "priority trades", designed to help skills shortages made worse by the demands of the Christchurch rebuild.
Eighty of the scholarships - which covered trainees' tuition fees - were shared by Whitireia Polytechnic (carpentry) and WelTec (carpentry, painting and decorating, brick and blocklaying, plumbing).
Mr McDonald said the "Pacific Island only" carpentry class worked very well.
A key to the programme was that it harnessed the support and mana of local Pacific church ministers.
They went out into the community to pull suitable candidates into training, and they stayed with them in support throughout.
That meant that parents were also on board, he said.
As he told a brief ceremony attended by church ministers and WelTec chief executive Linda Sissons last week, the school marks hard as it assesses the standard of finish of the houses built at Petone.
"I get very grumpy if I see things that aren't right. . . but you have done a fantastic job."
The Rev Nove Vailaau congratulated the graduates, and said they had set a standard and example that would inspire other Pacific Island men and women considering training for a trade.
Student Sam Moemalo thanked their tutor Len Matautia for his patience and said the "support and belief in us" shown by Weltec and the ministers had been important in some of them sticking with the training, including through the winter months.
Samisoni Laukau, who had been working on a house-building project in Eastbourne prior to joining the course, was pleased he now had a recognised qualification that could help him land an apprenticeship, or at least the confidence of an employer to try him out on a wider range of tasks on a building site.
Like others we spoke to, Mr Laukau said heading to Christchurch for work was "Plan B" if there is no job locally.
L.A. Moemai , fresh out of St Patrick's Silverstream, said the pre-trade course had proved to be a springboard for him to enrol for level 4 of the National Certificate in Carpentry.
Enisila Lotaki, one of the older trainees, said it was useful having a range of ages learning together because "we fed off each other's strengths".
Samoan tutor Len Matautia was familiar with the Pasifika way of doing things and gave extra emphasis to "hands on" learning rather than stressing the theory, Mr Lotaki said.
"I've got children and grandchildren as well and I'm telling them, you've got to go out and make this kind of this happen; you can't wait and expect someone to hand it to you."
The TEC is to fund another round of Pasifika Scholarships next year but it's not known how many places will be available here.
Mr McDonald said he would love to run another Pacific-stream carpentry course.
- Hutt News