From hammers to heating: changing trades

June 28, 2022

Sulia Pepa discovered her love for carpentry during woodwork classes at high school and it’s a trade she continued to study before discovering a new passion – HVAC.

“I thought carpentry was really cool and I really wanted to learn how to do it so I could build my own house or renovate existing ones in the Pacific Islands. I thought the biggest expense in my life would be my home so if I learnt how to build, I would cut down some of those costs! Plus, I thought it was a good core skill and one that would be able to support me when I eventually wanted to specialise in one particular trade,” says Sulia.

After leaving school, Sulia completed a carpentry course and started working at the property division of Citycare Group. It was there that Sulia stumbled on a new trade – HVAC (or Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning).

“I was given the opportunity to undertake an internship with different trades within Citycare. I really wanted to build up my work experience and confidence and get a feel for other trades before I settled on one. My manager asked me if I wanted to try HVAC, which I did for a year. Then thanks to the government’s TTAF (Targeted Training Apprenticeship Fund), I started my Refrigeration and Air Conditioning apprenticeship, and I’m now in my second year.

“Getting paid to learn is great. It’s kind of an added incentive and motivation to keep going. Plus there is no student loan that I need to think about paying back after I qualify. And the best thing is I know that at the end of this apprenticeship I will be a technician with a qualification recognised in other countries.”

Sulia’s manager, Citycare Group HVAC Supervisor Garvesh Naidu says the business is fortunate Sulia chose to learn HVAC for her apprenticeship.

“Sulia went through all our trades including plumbing and electrical before she found HVAC. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time for her.

“Working with her, she’s eager to learn stuff, always. My whole team enjoys working with her. Maintenance wise she does a pretty good job, even beating some of my tradies! And while she’s good at cleaning filters, technically she is above standard. I make an example of her at our team meetings because her work is outstanding.”

Garvesh says she has a bright future ahead.

“Just by watching how she goes about carrying-out some checks on plants and equipment, I know she will be an excellent service technician once fully-qualified.”

Helping Sulia navigate her apprenticeship study is her training advisor, Bevan Paul. She says Bevan’s been very supportive and is ready to answer any questions, giving her encouragement and guidance.

“Competenz is really supportive of women in the trades, as is my workplace team and I appreciate the quarterly visits by my Competenz training advisor. I’m the only female in my trade division and at first working in the building industry was a bit challenging for me. I am quiet and shy and I had to adjust to different attitudes and working habits. But as time went on, I eventually became very comfortable and a lot of the tradies have gone out of their way to help me. When you have other tradies supporting you it becomes more of an encouragement and motivation than a challenge.”

As a Pasifika learner, Sulia hopes more Māori and Pasifika people will be attracted to the trades. Learning what opportunities there will be after finishing a trade is key.

“People need to set a goal and see if taking up a trade could help them reach it. Think about where you’d like to be in the future. For me, after I qualify I would love to be in a position where I don’t need to work 40 hours a week and be able to use some time and my skills around NZ and overseas as a volunteer for my Christian organisation, maintaining and building their places of worship.”

Sulia’s advice to students or school leavers about workplace training? Take initiative and be inquisitive.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t overthink things. Set yourself small goals and be open minded and willing to learn. Most importantly, be patient. You never know where you can go!”

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