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Ara to help Pacific Islanders reap rebuild rewards

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A local carpenter being assessed in Samoa as part of the new Pacific Trades Partnership initiative. A local carpenter being assessed in Samoa as part of the new Pacific Trades Partnership initiative.

As part of a new initiative called the Pacific Trades Partnership (PTP) the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has contracted Ara Institute of Canterbury to oversee skills assessments of tradespeople in the Pacific Islands.

This initiative follows off the back of an initial assessment pilot, which was trialled in 2016, to bring Pacific carpenters to New Zealand to assist with the Canterbury rebuild.

According to Dave Dixon, Manager of Ara’s Centre for Assessment of Prior Learning (CAPL), “the initial project involved working with MBIE to assess the suitability of carpenters from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, to work in the Canterbury rebuild.”

Ara's CAPL, working with a team from the Trades Department, developed a series of criteria for evaluating the skills of potential workers including English language ability, health and safety knowledge, experience, qualifications and equipment usage.

“Through CAPL we also conducted a skills assessment towards the award of the New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4), and by the end of 2017 we were able to award the carpentry qualification to 23 of the 24 pilot programme participants.”

This time around, the focus of the project has changed.

“Ara’s role in the PTP is to take staff expertise from CAPL and our Department of Trades and travel with a representative from MBIE to Pacific countries where we will assist with conducting local skills assessments” says Dixon.

“We have been asked to train officials from labour sending units and local vocational training providers to conduct the skills assessment process so that participating New Zealand employers can go to the Pacific and work with the local organisations to recruit workers for New Zealand construction projects on an ongoing basis.”

Labour mobility initiatives such as this supports New Zealand’s commitment under the Labour Mobility Arrangement, which sits alongside the PACER Plus trade agreement, which aims to foster economic integration in support of sustainable economic development in the Pacific.

Mick Cooke, Ara carpentry tutor, left for Samoa on Sunday where he will work with the Samoan Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, and the National University of Samoa’s Department of Construction to assess approximately 30 workers, and teach the assessment processes to their staff.

Following this, Cooke will travel to Tonga to continue the project. MBIE would like to extend the initiative to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands in a later round of the programme.

This time the initiative will not involve assessing the workers through CAPL to see if their prior learning can be recognised with the award of a qualification. However, this does not mean it’s completely off the table.

“Prior learning assessment is not automatically part of this process. However, through the positive feedback we received from the pilot project and with so many workers gaining carpentry qualifications we’ll certainly be promoting the opportunity for either the sponsoring employers in New Zealand or for the workers themselves to go through the assessment process when they’re in New Zealand,” says Dixon.

Media release on the pilot programme:

  • Source: ARA