Straight and Upright Skills

Empowering Pasifika to succeed in trade apprenticeships, Skills are helping by improving literacy levels among the workers at Upright Access scaffolders and opening doors for those seeking a profession where the sky’s the limit



When Upright Access director Mick Curran is asked how he got into the scaffolding business, he jokes that he “fell into it”. Having been in the industry for 30 years, Mick has witnessed better training, says more stringent compliance and adhering to safety procedures is stronger than it has ever been.


“We’ve just had a scaffolding job on Queen St which was 48m high, which is serious stuff,” he says.


“But our crew did an awesome job. The industry as a whole has improved markedly in recent years. We don’t have the cowboys in scaffolding which those in the business used to have. We do a toolbox at the start of every job, where everyone has to write down what they have to do. That ensures we’re all on the same page.”


The result is far less accidents and far more awareness of what their fellow workers are doing in relation to their own tasks.


Mick and his wife Jane, who is the company’s safety manager, and is part of the SKILLS Advisory board, started their own scaffolding business, Upright Access, 15 years ago. It had two trucks and five men. Now based in Penrose, the company has eight trucks and 25 men, almost all of them Pacific.


Mick himself is Tongan and was captain of the first Tongan national rugby league team in 1986. His mother Lineti was a co-founder of the Pacifica Women’s Association, P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A, set up in the late-1970s. She was one of the first Tongan translators in the New Zealand courts.


When he first started the business, Mick realised most of his workforce were more than capable of the physical requirements of the job, but a number lacked the literacy skills needed to pass the exams to become a certified scaffold worker, with NCEA Level 2 being the minimum.


The couple approached Edvance Workplace Training, an NZQA registered training provider delivering workplace literacy education and training. Mick describes the transformation among the workers following the training as remarkable.


There is a strong sense of loyalty to the business, with some having been with the company for more than a decade. Mick and Jane endeavour to maintain the drive by bringing successful people in to tell their stories and share their vision.


Mick was particularly inspired by Paul Blackwell, the original owner and CEO of the New Zealand Breakers basketball team.


“He talked about how better people make better basketballers,” says Mick.


“It struck a chord with me and I remember the All Blacks used that term as well, probably off the Breakers. It really hit home when a client commented on how courteous, polite and well we did in getting the job done.”


With assistance from a business mentor, staff worked on their values and put them on display in nine different languages in the workshop lunchroom, reflecting their own cultures and upbringing.


After rewarding and celebrating those who gained their certificates, Mick began to notice how the workers’ attitudes and habits gradually improved.


“In the old days, people used to smoke and drink a lot more than they do now, and that would occasionally lead them to trouble, particularly with the drinking,” he says.


“But that’s all changed. They undergo drug tests every month, don’t drink and drive and are generally a lot more responsible and health conscious than they used to be compared to when I started.


“Many of them don’t drink much because they’re more health conscious… they want to look good. So instead of shouting them beers, we’ll often give them shopping vouchers.


Mick has pride in his team and sees no reason why more females can’t join the scaffolding industry in greater numbers.


“If they have the skills, why not? The great thing about our crew is that we look out for one another.”

Calll 0508 SKILLS (0508 754 557) to talk to the Skills Pasifika team about what starting on the training journey means for you and your family.