Securing Kiwi work experience | ELPNZ

Securing Kiwi work experience

23 January 2017










For many refugees and migrants, progression to our Volunteer Internship Programme offers a positive step towards settling well in New Zealand.

Many arrive highly skilled, with outstanding work experience in their home countries. But even after overcoming the language barrier, some employers are saying: “Sorry, your skills are good, but you don’t have any New Zealand work experience”.

English Language Partners’ Volunteer Internship Programme offers a practical solution and is available at many centres across the country. Operations manager Birgit Grafarend-Watungwa is full of praise for this innovative programme. 

“The programme is a successful pathway for some,” says Birgit. “They come here to learn English first but we can also give them an opportunity to gain valuable New Zealand work experience. “The programme helps people to learn new skills while sharing the skills they already have.”

Joanne's story

Joanne Lee has a Bachelor of Statistics, and over 10 years’ planning management experience in her home country, Korea. But here, the fact that she had no New Zealand work experience stood in the way of her happiness. After being accepted for the Volunteer Internship Programme at English Language Partners North Shore, Joanne then found a job – at the centre!  She is now a full-time coordinator and a well-respected member of the team.

“I remember my first day as an intern. I was so nervous. The staff were lovely, so that made it easier. I looked at my desk and the computer and felt so happy, even though I nearly cried. I thought, ‘This is mine’. It was a remarkable moment.

“I came to New Zealand with my husband and daughter in 2014 from Seoul. We wanted a less excessively busy way of life. I would leave early in the morning and often didn’t come home until after 8pm. I could not care for my child or my husband – I did not want that for my family.

“Living in New Zealand was very hard at first. My daughter was not happy – she only knew a few words of English.

“I thought I would find work straightaway. I did go for job interviews but they said that my experience in Korea was not proper work experience. It is hard to feel useful when you first get here. 

“The centre recommended that I become a volunteer ESOL home tutor. I really enjoyed that and learnt a lot from the trainer and the other volunteers. I taught a lovely elderly Chinese woman. She couldn’t speak English or Korean and I couldn’t speak Chinese, but we were still able to communicate with photos, word cards, a translation phone app and lots of smiling. “I then applied for the internship programme and got it. I was so happy. 

It was a very good programme. Now I have a proper job. I not only help learners while they are learning English but I also help them with their life. I know what they are going through and how they are feeling because I have been through it too. I am also using some of my skills and experience.

“And my daughter is very happy too. She was very quick at learning English; it wasn’t long before I was asking her how to say things. “I am very happy in my job. It has worked out for me and my family.”

Mabel's story

Mabel Msopero is manager at the North Shore centre in Auckland. She is from Zimbabwe and has been here for 15 years. Mabel says the key to choosing the right kind of intern is to choose someone who is better than her! Mabel currently has four interns at the centre. 

“Recently, a woman who used to be an intern sent me an email. She thanked us for giving her New Zealand work experience. She wasn’t just talking about experience in work tasks, but also things like how Kiwis have lunch at work. 

“I have learnt a very important lesson about recruitment: surround yourself with people you can learn something from. I learnt a lot from Joanne. 

“When I am frustrated with my computer, I only have to say, ‘Joanne, I am stuck’ and she walks into my office calmly and says, ‘Have you tried this?’ She is fantastic. 

“To reach the sky we need to have staff that are closer to that sky. “A key for a successful internship is to make sure each role has a clear focus. Our interns are paired up with office staff who become their supervisors. They discuss and plan their work together.

“It’s the same as any job. If you don’t know what you’re doing or what the expectations are, you get bored. 

“Joanne is brilliant with former refugees and migrants from all backgrounds. When Joanne started, we were struggling to recruit learners from the Korean community because of the language barrier. Once we advertised that a Korean speaker was available, we saw a marked increase in enquiries from these learners.

“Having interns from different cultures means people feel they can communicate their needs to us more easily. At the moment, our interns and staff can speak Hindi, Tagalog, French, Korean, Mandarin and Malay. 

“Volunteer interns help relieve workload pressure, and staff really enjoy working with them. “The benefits of the intern programme are very good; they always outweigh the time you spend on training. And you do need to invest time if you want the benefits. 

“I think the programme fits very well with our mission and the vision we aim to achieve. English Language Partners is not just about language learning. There are so many embedded outcomes in the language we teach. When it comes to things like the internship programme, we are the full package.

“Although Joanne has ended up working full-time at the centre, she told me that the most important thing for her was being able to help other people gain their aspirations too.”