Downer Māori leaders graduate via Capable NZ pathway

Learner Stories
21 March 2024
Downer v2

A group of Māori leaders at Downer have graduated with bachelor’s degrees from Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga as part of a groundbreaking initiative involving Te Puni Kōkiri and Capable NZ.

They crossed the stage at the Dunedin Town Hall on Friday 15 March in a graduation ceremony that capped a journey that began in September 2022, when 10 tauira (participants) embarked on the Te Puni Kōkiri cadetship programme, Te Whanake Timatanga, which offers Māori employees the opportunity to advance their careers and achieve a recognised NZQA qualification, with funded training, guidance, and support.

The Downer cohort have all completed the Bachelor of Applied Management programme through Capable NZ, a school within Otago Polytechnic that provides alternative pathways to qualifications for experienced adults who are in the workplace.

“Each graduate had previously completed Downer’s Te Ara Whanake (Māori leadership) programme, so this bachelor’s qualification is a crucial next step in supporting tauira aspirations that ultimately develop Māori into senior management positions,” says Jarrod Telford, Downer Pou Matua.

“Our 10 graduates come from all over Aotearoa comprising five wāhine and five tāne, and hold a range of different roles across our business – from Contract Managers to Engineers and Quantity Surveyors.

“Many have been in our business for a number of years. They have a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience, but sometimes the lack of a formal qualification can be a block to career advancement."

“It is Downer’s hope that this programme becomes a real game changer for whānau and the company,” says Telford.

Karen McGuinness, Director of Investments at Te Puni Kōkiri, says the cadetship programme “provides a proven avenue for Māori of all ages to gain skills and to progress into higher‑paid, more senior roles”.

“The programme enables them to become leaders in and beyond the workplace," she says.

"The flexibility of the cadetship programme to support kaimahi (employees) of wide-ranging ages, skills and seniority levels is a strength that provides opportunities to support the Māori workforce in ways not available through other government programmes.”

Capable NZ offers mature and experienced professionals and community leaders an affirming and flexible path to gaining a formal academic qualification. Through its unique Assessment of Prior Learning (APL) methodology, it recognises learning that has already been acquired.

“This innovative partnership between Downer, Otago Polytechnic and Te Puni Kokiri offers a transformational pathway for mature and experienced pakeke,” says Capable NZ Associate Professor Kelli Te Maiharoa.

 “It’s a collaborative, indigenous model of education, bringing together iwi, industry, educational institutions, community organisations and government agencies,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.

“We offer the opportunity for pakeke to study and learn in a kaupapa Māori learning environment with Māori facilitators, Māori assessors and the chance to undertake this incredible learning journey with a cohort of amazing whānau tauira. Those involved in the programme are expected to attend wānanga and make time in their busy lives to complete their work,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.

“This group of pakeke grew up in an era when Māori often didn’t have an opportunity to enter tertiary study,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.

“Today, most are too busy leading whānau, hapū, rūnaka and iwi affairs to have the option of taking three years away from work to achieve a degree they have always aspired to,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.

Although Otago Polytechnic’s Graduation was a milestone for the multi-partner initiative, it is the first in what is hoped to be an ongoing series of success stories, with another 11 Downer kaimahi having just started bachelor’s degree study via Capable NZ.

“A tuākana: tēina approach is now being role modelled within the company, where whānau from the initial pilot are now offering mentoring support to their tēina rōpū,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.

“We wish both the new graduates and the kaimahi who have just started their studies all the best,” Dr Te Maiharoa says.