Working their way to the top with Cadetships

In a smoko room in Hawkes Bay hang a series of framed staff achievements. Plenty more certificates have been proudly added to the walls of this Māori owned contracting firm in the past year, due to the Te Puni Kōkiri Cadetships programme.

Published: Tuesday, 1 June 2021 | Rātū, 01 Pipiri, 2021

Topline Contracting is run by Flaxmere native, Taurus Taurima. His company has cornered a gap in the local market, specialising in residential and commercial projects, doing everything from concrete work and asphalting, to landscaping and civil infrastructure.

Managing Director Taurus started the business five years ago from the boot of a friend’s car. Today the firm has over 50 staff and is a preferred sub-contractor to some of the biggest players in the construction and infrastructure sector.

Taurus Taurima started his business Topline Contracting five years again from the boot of his friend's car.

Investing in people like him

From the beginning, Taurus was determined to provide opportunities for whānau from Flaxmere and others who share a similar challenging background to him. Today 80 per cent of Topline’s kaimahi are Māori. Many have been referred by the Ministry of Social Development or Department of Corrections. To get them work ready, Taurus has had to invest upfront.

“Heaps of our Māori people come in and all they have is their learner license. It’s hard to get a job in our industry if you don’t have your full license because you can’t go on to get the tickets to operate the heavy machinery to get our mahi done.”

“I’ve spent thousands over the years, getting our men qualified and trained up. I didn’t really do it for the business though. It was to help our people get educated in this industry, so they wouldn’t be at the bottom of the ladder all the time getting minimum wage.”

“The support from Te Puni Kōkiri Cadetships has helped a lot. I couldn’t afford to pay for all the training by myself.”

Harris Solomon is one of the Topline Cadet kaimahi. 

Getting the ticket to drive into the future

As part of the Te Puni Kōkiri focus on building a sustainable, resilient and inclusive Māori economy, Cadetships support employer-driven upskilling for Māori employees, so they can move to higher-skilled positions and new opportunities in their field.

One of the Cadet kaimahi is Harris Solomon, a Civil Labourer. At 23, Harris (Ngāti Kahungunu) wants to increase his skills to benefit himself and his whānau.

“I don’t have all the university entrances. When I was at high school I mucked around a bit. Now I’m in the real world, there are only certain opportunities for people like me. I was only on my Learners when I started at Topline but now I have my Full license, and also my fork-lift, wheels, tracks and rollers licenses.”

Part of his development was to attend evening polytechnic classes with his colleagues.

“We were studying for our Level 3 in Civil Infrastructure. All the theory side of things were pretty new to me. They were things they can’t teach you onsite, you have to learn it in the books.”

Māoritanga central to business culture  

Taurus arranged a three-day noho at Waimarama Marae for the Cadets, their whānau and work-mates. In that time Taurus believes the kaimahi got to know each other better than they had all year. Much of that came down to whanaungatanga. 

“I had a plan and a vision to take all the people who work at Topline to reach their fullest potential,” he says, “And part of that is learning about their culture, as well as excelling in their education”.

“Some of the boys didn’t know their pepeha or hadn’t been onto a marae. But by the end, they could all say where they came from, they’d learnt about Waimarama from the local people, had laid down a hāngī, and were taught our own Topline haka. We performed it for Minister Nanaia, when she came to the opening of our new premises.”

Workshops were also held on financial skills and hauora. Harris found the budgeting presentations helpful and in line with his dream of one day buying his own home. 

The tamariki and whanau of Topline kaimahi joined the Cadets on day 3 of the company's noho at Waimarama Marae last year.

Paying off in the long run

In the meantime, Harris wants to get more experience and confidence in his mahi so that he can join his mentor in the Topline office in future.

“One day I want to be like Taurus, managing contracts and crews full time. He’s my role model. We both grew up in low decile communities and he gave me a second chance. It’s quite hard trying to get a job when you come out of prison. Seeing what he’s done, makes me think I can do something like that as well. I would have to do more learning and theory work, but in the long run it will pay off.”

“The more of us Māori who get educated, can help break the cycle of how the public see us, and will help the next generation coming up. We’ve got a lot of young ones in our job, some are 18, and I tell them to get their licences.”

Taurus is proud of how much Harris and the other Cadets have grown, He says the door is always open for his kaimahi who want to be upskilled. The smoko room is a daily reminder of that to everyone.  

“Even when our staff leave, the certificates stay up there. It’s an achievement thing aye.”

To find out how the Cadetship programme may be able to support your business and Māori staff development, contact your closest Te Puni Kōkiri regional office.

Harris speaking at the opening of Topline's new Omahu Rd yard earlier this year.