Kaimahi provided tools to grow Māori leadership

Māori kaimahi at a civil infrastructure company are trading in their hard-hats and high-vis gears once a month, for book-work and presentations as they embark on a cadetships programme designed to grow their leadership potential.

Published: Monday, 24 August 2020 | Rāhina, 24 Hereturikōkā, 2020

Whakapuāwai (to blossom or thrive) is the new Māori staff development programme at  Dempsey Wood Civil. The company, based in Auckland and Waikato, has a workforce of over 400 staff. The kaupapa behind Whakapuāwai is to provide Māori employees with the tools to reach the next level of their careers and to increase Māori in leadership roles.

Machine operator and 15-year Dempsey Wood ‘veteran’, Mack Conner (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Whanaunga, Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāpuhi) has been selected for Whakapuāwai.

“This programme will definitely help our Māori employees, by helping them think about their options and to create a stable work ethic within the company. Later on, down the track they can look back and say, ‘I used to be the guy that used to sit there on the shovel. But now I’m doing something else in the company, something better.’ This will help them get to that place sooner.”

Te Puni Kōkiri has partnered with Dempsey Wood Civil through its Cadetships programme, which supports businesses to thrive and Māori careers to grow. Cadetships supports employers to mentor and grow Māori staff of all ages, in a range of industries, so they can take on more senior roles, extend their career paths and boost workforce development. An important part of the programme is that it celebrates te ao Māori and its place in workforce and personal development.

Laying a Te Ao Māori foundation

Sophia Olo-Whaanga, Social Responsibility Manager for Dempsey Wood, is a mentor for cadets who are part of Whakapuāwai.  Sophia (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Te Ākitai o Waiohua, Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Hāmoa) worked with course developer, Upskills, and Te Puni Kōkiri to structure the programme within a mātauranga Māori framework.

It was important to the company to uphold their commitment to Te Tiriti and to build or reaffirm the Maoritanga of their Māori staff, says Sophia. 

“For many urban Māori, they have lost connection to their marae, whānau, hapū and iwi. We wanted to ensure this programme grounds our Māori staff in their identity and whakapapa first. Our Kaiaronui, Isaac Rakena, sits in all the sessions to support equitable outcomes for our cadets and create a safe cultural environment for learning.”

Sophia says the programme will provide the cadets with skills to be able to communicate more effectively and have the skills and tools to lead others. Cadets also work towards a NZQA Certificate in Business (Team Leadership Level 3).

“They all have a natural instinct for leadership. There is definitely room to grow within the company, and we want to help tautoko their development.”

“We also want to build the cultural capacity of our organisation. We have partnerships with Māori owned businesses and iwi groups, so we want to ensure we’re engaging more effectively with our Māori staff as well as our external partners.”

Teresa Tawhai, the only female cadet on the programme, wanted to encourage other women from the company to seek out opportunities for progression. Photo courtesy of Dempsey Wood Civil

Doing it for the women

Teresa Tawhai (Ngā Puhi) is one of the nine cadets selected to join the first intake, and the only female on the programme. She began working for the company almost five years ago in the traffic management division.

I enjoy my role out on the road. I’ve only done indoors factory jobs before this. When I first started with Dempsey, I was a very shy person. I just did my job as I was asked to. But since then I’ve opened up and built a relationship with our crews and help them out. When some of our team members need help with work issues, they text me for advice.”

Teresa says she was surprised when she was told she was selected for Whakapuāwai.

“When I got the phone call, I told our HR person I hadn’t done a course in a long time.  It’s like I’m going back to school. But I agreed because there are not many of us females out on the road, so taking up this opportunity was a way for me to support other women who work for Dempsey Wood. “

“Some of my female work-mates have said to me, ‘Nah, I’m not going to do it’, if they were offered the chance to do the course. But I can encourage them to think about it, by telling them how it all goes. To tell you the truth though, I almost pulled out earlier on. But when I told my work mate she said, ‘You have to do this. You have to do this for us women!’”

The programme is delivered through a series of one day wānanga held monthly, each of which begins with karakia and waiata. In between, the cadets complete their work-books and keep in touch online. The first session on whakapapa and identity, inspired Teresa to be self-reflective.

“When they asked us, ‘Who am I?’, it took my mind back to when my grandparents were still alive, and driving around to all the hui up north. We have been in this world so long, that kind of life has drifted away now. That’s why this course is important for us Māori people, to remember who we are, and where we have come from.”

Up for a challenge

Teina Johnstone (Ngā Puhi) started with Dempsey Wood as a casual labourer almost two years ago, after being offered mahi through the company’s connection with Te Puea Marae in Māngere. As a new-comer to the industry, he had to learn fast on the job, and is now gaining experience driving diggers and loaders. Teina says the reason he wants to participate in Whakapuāwai is to upskill in the area of team leadership.

“I was already helping to mentor some guys in my Church, so I thought I could apply those skills for different areas of my job. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I was up for a challenge.”

Whakapuāwai was launched in July at Makaurau Marae, and Teina says the experience of mihimihi or introducing himself along with the others, helped to build the confidence of the group. 

“I hadn’t said my mihi for at least 20 years, since I was at school. I felt quite privileged to stand up and it helped me to step out of my comfort zone. It also helped take away the nervous feeling from everyone else too. As one person got up, and then another, it gave people the confidence to stand up and share their story. It’s not easy to get up and speak in front of others aye.” 

Teina says some of the exercises the group participated in, helped confirmed his individual communication style.  

“The TetraMap exercise revealed I was like the Water element - a calm, patient kind of person. Knowing that has changed the way I have discussions with others and deal with pressure. Now people approach me in a different manner, and it gives me an added incentive to come to work.”

Mack Conner (pictured with his mokopuna) says the kōrero and tools from the programme will help him not just at work, but also at home with his whānau and socially. Photo courtesy of Dempsey Wood Civil

Rolling in to positive change

Mack says his motivation to participate in Whakapuāwai is to help other Māori within the company, especially rangatahi. In addition to his day job, Mack is the lead mentor for Manaakitanga, an informal staff support network.

“I’ve been here for 15 years and [have] seen Māori filtering through but they don’t seem to last long. My whakaaro is they are searching for opportunities but our people are not that confident or outwardly ambitious.”

“When we have talks with the bosses to review our roles, I’ve noticed a few of our guys just clam up, or go, ‘Sweet as.’ A review is where you have your say, but it’s a bit intimidating to be honest. I went through that myself. But all that’s changed for me now and things have started to roll.”  

Next steps up the ladder

In the future Mack would like to take on more managerial responsibilities, by stepping in-to a foreman role. He says Whakapuāwai is also helping to develop other aspects of his life, not just his career.

 “It’s helping me to become a better person. The kōrero and tools I’ve taken away about growth and fixed mind-sets has been awesome. What I’ve learnt can help me in a big way, and not just at work. But also at home with my whānau and socially.”

“I’m in my late fifties now and I think I could have been doing this years ago. But I chose to go down another path, because life happens like that. I will take everything I can from this opportunity and use it to benefit myself and others.”

For Teresa, her ambitions for life after Whakapuāwai is to look at potential opportunities to mix things up, by working in the office as well as out on the road.   

“But at the moment I’m enjoying what I’m learning. Which is good because I can pass down this knowledge to my children who are studying. I’m happy that I kept going with the programme. It’s not going to get me anywhere if I’m not prepared to move forward.”

Teina hopes the Level 3 Team Leadership qualification he will achieve at the end of the programme will help him to take his next steps in his career at Dempsey Wood.

“I’m 42 now, and I don’t want to be a labourer for the rest of my life. One day I would like to run my own crew and become a foreman. So I’m hoping this ticket will help me to get a bit higher in the company and in a different role.  I also want to apply the range of skills I’ve learned to help mentor others and be a role model, as I step up the ladder.”

To find out more about how your business can participate in the Cadetships programme contact your regional Te Puni Kōkiri branch.



Main photo: Whakapuawai Class of 2020: The nine cadets were supported by Gail Hōhaia from Te Puni Kokiri at the programme launch held at Makaurau Marae in Mangere.

(Back Row, L-R): Wilson Matangi, Adam Karena, Teina Johnstone, John Castle, Adrian Brown, Jessy Opai.

(Front Row, L-R): Mike Hick, Gail Hōhaia (Te Puni Kōkiri), Teresa Tawhai, Mack Conner.

Photo courtesy of Dempsey Wood Civil.