Pacific perspectives on career development

Talofa lava, Kiaorana, Malo e lelei, Ni sa bula vinaka, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Malo ni, Kia ora koutou and greetings. 

Last week a panel discussion focusing on the Pacific Perspectives on Career Development featured at the CDANZ National Symposium in Auckland.  The panelists included:

  • Fa’anānā Efeso Collins (Samoa, Tokelau) , Councillor – Auckland Council
  • Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath (Samoa), Senior Lecturer Pacific Studies – The University of Auckland
  • Blake Wong-Ling (Samoa, Tonga, Niue), Senior Liaison Schools & Community – MIT
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L-R:  Riki Apa, Cr. Efeso Collins, Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Blake Wong-Ling

The discussion was facilitated by Riki Apa (Samoa), Career Consultant from The University of Auckland.  The session had great energy and all the panellists generously shared insights into how their Pacific identity shaped their career paths to date.  The discussion also alludes to the fact that young Pacific people will form a growing portion of the New Zealand workforce in the next 10-15 years.

For Efeso Collins, he knew early on that his outgoing personality (he wasn’t afraid to speak up to his teachers!) and position as the youngest and first child in his family to go to university came with great opportunity. He had the natural talent to advocate for others and found an affinity for speaking on behalf of Pacific people.  He cites the notion of racism existing in NZ, not to shock people, but to foster dialogue around the inequalities that exist for Pacific people in the world of work.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath has a successful academic career having published numerous pieces of research and lecturing on the Pacific Studies programme. She mentioned how Pacific people are humble by nature and are guided by values around supporting and serving family and their communities.  The expectations for young Pacific people become challenging when family responsibilities impact on their ability to attend higher study.  This can take away from the ability of the young person to ultimately build a thriving career and can negatively impact on health and wellbeing.

Blake Wong-Ling grew up in South Auckland and was raised by his family to embrace Pacific cultures, as well as the indigenous Maori culture. His strong interest in education and raising youth aspirations saw him work in the public sector and more recently at MIT as a Schools and Community Liaison. Through his work as a career practitioner, he cites the value for using culturally appropriate strategies and tools, particularly as some Pacific people shy away from engaging from services and information.  He sees he has an important role as a ‘sense maker’.

The three panellists were forthcoming in their views and all agreed there can be tension, and a necessity for balancing work and cultural identities.  Blake used the analogy of Superman (or Wonderwoman!).  There are times when you can be Clark Kent, the guy who goes about his work with a level of comfort and without too much fuss.  But he can also don on his lycra outfit and become Superman, expressing another version (albeit powerful) of himself.

Pacific people can comfortably move between different identities without compromising or losing their sense of cultural being. Efeso also talks about the need to ‘play the game’ at times.  You might not always be in comfortable situations, but there is much to be gained from experience and learning how to adapt to situations. Being guided by ‘respect’ can be a strong way to navigate the early working career.

At the discussion, we were also privileged to have five University of Auckland students join us.  A big shout-out to Drea, Margharita, Nynnette, Sabrina and Sara!  They also connected with the rest of the CDANZ attendees for refreshments afterwards.

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Students from the University of Auckland

Here are some of their insights and learnings from the discussion:

As a Pasifika student I learned the importance of building bridges with other Maori/Pacific professionals, keeping in mind that creating a supportive mentor team often results in a much happier and more satisfying journey through professional career development.

The discussion boosted my confidence and self-esteem in speaking, and taking the independence in applying my Pacific knowledge and worldview, whilst working for my dream job in the future.

Dr Tiatia-Seath states during her discussion that; “If you want to see a change you got to be the change or the game changer” .This phrase alongside other panellists who emphasized on the negative stereotypes we face in our society, hit home for me. Therefore, I left this panel empowered with a reminder and a purpose of who we are as Pacific decedents of navigators.    

Being the prime product of what our panellist was discussing develops a tendency or urge to be the change for not only our families but also for our community.

The session was a friendly reminder of how valuable networking is & how we must foster our networking skills even though it is often a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar space for Pacific students to navigate.

This event reminded me of the Samoan proverb “O le ala i le pule o le tautua” – “The path to leadership is through service.”

If these insights are anything to go by, the aspirations and possibilities for our Pacific leaders of tomorrow are looking bright indeed!

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