Mouth-watering smells of honey, nuts, seeds and coffee grind is what you’ll be hit with when you walk into YUM Granola in Nelson. The homey space functions as an office, packing centre and fully kitted-out kitchen inside a converted shipping container in the far corner of the building.

It’s in this container kitchen that you’ll find Alex most days, cheerily baking a tasty batch of nutritious granola or preparing the freshly made cereal for distribution in Nelson and across Aotearoa.

“Every working day I start at 8 o’clock in the morning and finish at 2:30pm or 3:30pm. I do the baking and the packing,” says Alex.

Alex is a former refugee from Colombia. His work with YUM Granola is a long way from the construction work he is more familiar with, but from the ease and speed with which he works, you would be forgiven for thinking that he’d always been a chef.

Today is a packing day, and Alex is sealing up some of the last bags that will soon be torn open by hungry Kiwis. Alex has been working at YUM for two years and enjoys the work, but especially the people.

“I like the job because the people here are such good people,” he grins. “I like working with Sarah and Mike, and Rachel is nice too.”

Sarah and Mike Hedger are the owners of YUM Granola and Rachel works as their marketer and administrator. Sarah, whose official title is Director of Deliciousness, says that Alex is the perfect match for their small team.

Sarah and Mike were connected with Alex through the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment team in Nelson, with help from the local Work and Income. Our Pathways to Employment programme helps to prepare new Kiwis with refugee backgrounds for work in New Zealand, as well as connecting people seeking work with potential employers, like Sarah and Mike.

The pair says that they initially considered employing a former refugee after listening to a segment on Radio New Zealand about refugees.

Sarah explains: “Mike had been listening to national radio one morning and heard that there are so many refugees that come to Nelson. Realising that most of us have our jobs because of who we know and that, generally speaking, most [former refugees] won’t know anyone when they come into the country, he thought it would be helpful to give someone an opportunity that they otherwise might not have.”

She adds: “And we also thought it might add a bit of variety to our life and others as well.”

Alex has been working as the baker and packer at YUM Granola since 2018. 

After some discussion, Sarah called their local Red Cross service centre. They explained that they were business owners keen to take on a new staff member and, soon enough, Alex was on the books.

The YUM Granola team is small, so it was important that whoever they hired was the right fit. Sarah says it was equally as important that whoever they hired has the same work ethic as them, but that they also enjoyed life.

Alex, Sarah says, is a great employee who more than met these criteria.

“One of the first days Alex was working here I told him that the secret ingredient to making great YUM is love, and I feel like Alex makes great granola!”

Sarah says she and the team and lucky to have found Alex, who is well and truly part of the YUM family.

"I am happy here. It is safe and quite for me here," says Alex.

Thinking about hiring a former refugee?

Sarah has advice for anyone who’s looking for workers and is considering hiring a former refugee.

I think it’s a really neat thing to have an open mind. It doesn’t matter where people come from, what they look like or what languages they speak, because good employees are worth their weight in gold.”

Or granola, as it turns out!

To find out more about employing former refugees, or to speak with your local Pathways to Employment team, head to this page.