Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Free work training for Pacific workers in Auckland aims to help 3500 people in four years

By Amy Williams, RNZ

Thousands of Pacific workers in Auckland will be given the opportunity to upskill for free while at work in an initiative starting today.

Aerial view of Auckland city, New Zealand
Thousands of Pacific workers in Auckland will be given the opportunity to upskill for free (file image). Photo: 123rf

The economic and cultural agency Auckland Unlimited has been allocated $8 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) skills initiative and aims to train 3500 Pacific people over four years.

MBIE general manager of economic development Pam Ford said employers could now register for the fully-funded training programme.

“For Pacific workers it offers short accredited courses in their workplace to help build up skills, maybe financial literacy and digital skills, and other programmes that will make them more resilient to changes in the workplace,” she said.

“We’re looking for medium to large companies that have a large proportion of Pacific workers, and particularly in those industries where they are the engines of the economic recovery.”

Once on the programme employers can be matched with an education provider offering courses in financial literacy and digital skills, or alternatively, a course tailored to their sector.

Ford said the economic fallout of the pandemic was ongoing, especially for those in low-skilled roles.

More than half of Pacific people occupy less-skilled jobs with lower incomes than for the general population.

“The Covid impact has got a long tail and it’s really going to continue to impact people who have lower skilled jobs and we’re really looking at how we can help both employers but also the workers ensure their people have some skills to protect them into the future,” Ford said.

“Auckland’s Pacific workforce are largely employed in lower skilled occupations so that leads to them having lower wages, lower asset base, and Pacific people experience greater in-work poverty of any ethnic group in New Zealand.”

Case study at Sleepyhead

Sleepyhead was one of the organisations piloting the programme for Auckland Unlimited.

Kilifi Mafileo has worked at Sleepyhead’s factory in Auckland for 26 years but the last 12 months have seen big changes.

He recently received his payslip by email for the first time, after setting up his first email account during a computer skills course offered for free at his workplace.

“There’s a lot of things I know now. Before I have done this course I don’t know how to set up an email account, even I don’t know how to search for something online. I learn now how to do it.”

Mafileo, who is of Tongan decent and in his 50s, said the course had introduced him to life online and given him confidence to consider his job prospects.

“It will help me but on the other hand when I finish this course I don’t see myself doing the same job all the time. Maybe I’m going to sit in the office or do something that I really like to do.”

The courses are short and employers just need to provide a room to hold classes, and release their employees for two hours a week.

At Sleepyhead, where 80 percent of workers in the factory are Pacific people, the pilot had been a success.

Its manager of people and culture, Rebecca Phillips, said 10 people were due to finish the online skills course soon.

“The feedback from the participants has been not only that they’ve learned the skills but that it’s opened up a whole chapter for them in how they can interact with their kids and extended family overseas.”

The company would soon provide laptops in the lunchroom for staff to use their newly acquired computer skills in their breaks, she said.

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