From early school leaver to essential service provider
In 2012, when Cook Islander Cori Pokotea left college without a NCEA qualification, she never thought that one day she would be providing an essential service through a global pandemic.
Having graduated with a New Zealand Certificate in Electrical Engineering (Level 3) from Whitireia at the Porirua campus, and then snapped up by electrical company, Paradise Power, to work as an apprentice, Cori spent the COVID-19 lockdown providing emergency electrical services to families in the Hutt Valley.
“Ovens, hot water cylinders and lights break all the time, even when the country is in lockdown”, says Cori. “So we were pretty much run off our feet the whole time. It was quite stressful going into peoples’ homes both for me and the person I was helping. We had to wear masks and gloves. But I really liked helping out, especially our clients who were higher needs, and a little frightened by everything.”
Cori was only one of two female graduates to complete a level three certificate in electrical engineering at Whitireia in 2019, and finished top of her class.
“Cori is a role model student and through hard work and determination landed a great job straight after leaving us, she is a committed worker and applies herself 100% to genuinely helping others,” says Cori’s Whitireia tutor, Alan Lee.
“Although there are not many female electrical engineers, we are hopeful that this will change,” says Alan. “Cori has certainly helped pave the way and Paradise Power has already taken on their second ever female apprentice – another Whitireia student.”
“I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be an electrician,” says Cori. “But I was always told that trades were for men. Women and men have different perspectives and see things in different ways so I personally think it is beneficial to have both in the team.”
But this pathway to success has not always come easy for Cori.
“School was not really my thing, which is why I left early in Year 11, but then I moved from the Waikato to Titahi Bay and enrolled at Whitireia in Porirua, which was close to my Nan where I was living. It was a great learning environment for me,” says Cori. “The course work was challenging, but the tutors were hugely supportive and helpful. I still keep in touch with them now!”
Cori was supported through her study at Whitireia by the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Scholarship (MPTT).
Sam Atoni was Cori’s MPTT Engagement Mentor and explains the benefit of this bespoke support: “Our job is to support the students so they can be the best they can be,” says Sam. “We assist with providing tools, driver’s licence programme and pastoral care. The best outcome for us is if students can get work experience while they study so they can see how to apply themselves and their knowledge in a real life environment. The goal is to secure an apprenticeship or employment at the end of study.
“But to be honest, with Cori, she did all the hard work and had unique initiative, she is just ‘that’ person and is an amazing role model,” says Sam.