Four years of life changing success

It's mid-afternoon and Naing Naing Tun has just clocked on for the day. He’s preparing for the dinner rush at Monsoon Poon, a busy restaurant in central Wellington.

Naing Naing was one of the first former refugees who found work with Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme when it was rolled out nationally in September 2014.

Four years and three promotions later, Naing Naing has gone from kitchenhand to chef de partie and his boss, Mike Egan, was so pleased with the programme that he’s employed another person through it.

"New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world to resettle refugees and I think it’s our obligation to look after refugees and help them integrate as best we can when they arrive," he says.

“Language can be a challenge but they’re a clever bunch and we as a community have to make it so that they succeed.”

"It's our obligation to look after refugees and help them integrate as best we can when they arrive."
Finding employment has put Naing Naing in the financial position to start a family (photo: Gemma Snowdon/NZ Red Cross) 

Finding employment has been a life changing experience for Naing Naing and helped him fully integrate in New Zealand. He has perfected his English skills and soon after landing the job he found himself in the financial position to bring his wife to New Zealand and start a family.

"I'm very happy now and love my job, I think I’ll be working here for more and more years," he says.

Judi McCallum is the Pathways to Employment team leader in Wellington. She helped start the programme in 2011 as a pilot before it was rolled out nationally in 2014. She says that these sorts of success stories are an absolute highlight for her.

“It’s amazing to see a person starting from total zero and being able to achieve normality as a Kiwi. Employment is a sense of identity, when you’re stripped of your work, you’re stripped of who you are.”

Judi has also watched how a change in discourse among former refugee communities has helped transform people's possibilities and dreams.

"There used to be this idea that you had to speak perfect English to find a job. Now there are people already in work even if they aren’t fluent and communities are recognising that it is achievable. That sense of hope is the essence of the programme."

A skilled future

In South Auckland, Haseeb Al-Sabbagh moves around a factory floor with ease and familiarity. He works at Cairnscorp, a role he found through Pathways to Employment in 2014. Although his English isn't perfect, his skills as an upholsterer were highly sought after by the company.

Cairnscorp specialises in Canvas and PVC products – everything from car upholstery to horse riding accessories. There’s been a change in ownership since Haseeb started working there and new owner, Andre Panszczyk, says he has been impressed by Haseeb’s skill set, one that can be difficult to find in New Zealand.

"We’re a unique business because a lot of skill sets we have here have been taken over by machinery and products are mass produced."

It can be difficult for former refugees to arrive in New Zealand only to discover that their qualifications aren't recognised, or that their trade requires a qualification, and Judi McCallum says adapting to this can be difficult.

"The trades are often a bit different. For example, a lot of cultures don’t build in wood and are more used to using stone and concrete. It can be hard to measure what someone’s trade skills actually are unless we have an employer willing to spend a couple of days with them onsite to assess the level."

It’s not only the skills that can be tough to adapt though, the workplace culture can add an element of stress.

“The way people work is quite different, a lot of Syrian families come from working in their own family business to suddenly being someone else’s employee so it’s quite a different headspace,” says Judi.

Despite these challenges, many employees from refugee backgrounds have become important parts of the businesses they work for.

"We want Haseeb and his son to take more of a role in our business so they become totally integrated."

In Haseeb's case, he even approached Andre about bringing his son on board as a staff member.

"We’re very fortunate that Haseeb has the confidence to get his son to come and work here," says Andre.

“This is a new adventure to him, he has the skills but also an understanding that we want him and his father to take more of a role in our business so they become totally integrated, not only with our business but also into the social fabric of New Zealand.”

As we celebrate four years since Pathways to Employment was rolled out nationally, we’re also celebrating more than 1,000 people who have found new opportunities, given back to their new home country, and had their sense of identity restored.

How to help

If you would like to know more about Pathways to Employment or have a position available, get in touch with your local team here.