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The factory floor of St Michel is noisy with the sounds of drilling, hammering, and humming engines filling the air. On the left of the large room are Solomon Teweldebrhan and Maung Shwe, both studiously working on the half-made cabinets sitting on their benches.
The pair have been working as cabinet assemblers at St Michel – a bathroom furniture company - for the past 12 months. They found their jobs through Red Cross' Pathways to Employment, a programme that helps former refugees find work.
St Michel was introduced to Red Cross by a word of mouth recommendation. They were told the programme was a source of motivated potential employees who often bring some related experience with them.
"I sent Red Cross the basic skill set we needed and asked if they had anyone who matched it," says Factory Manager Paul Turner.
“We were looking for people good with hand tools, who could operate battery drills, and who were good team players. They came back to me with Maung and Solomon.”
Maung is originally from Myanmar and has been in New Zealand for two years after arriving through the refugee quota programme. He'd had experience working in a similar company when he was younger, although he says this work is quite different.
"In Myanmar we made everything by hand," he explains. “Here it’s a little bit harder because we use tools and machines.”
Maung was eager to start working in New Zealand as soon as possible to build a new life for himself and give back to his new country.
"I was studying at Auckland University and during this time I was in crisis because I was dependent on the government providing some money," he says.
“Now I've got a job because of Red Cross and my life has changed. Before I had nothing, now I can buy a car.”
Solomon has a slightly different story to Maung, he came to New Zealand through a Refugee Family Support Visa. Originally from Eritrea, he’s been living in Auckland for four years.
It was his previous experience as a welder that made Solomon stand out to the crew at St Michel. He says the work is different to what he’s done in the past but he’s adapted well.
His colleagues are what makes the job for Solomon though, as he jokes around with other staff on the factory floor and has a good sense of humour.
"All of them are friendly and happy, I really like them," he says. “Sometimes their pronunciation is difficult for me but they always explain things to me slowly so I understand.”
Both Solomon and Maung have fitted in well to their roles, showing not only considerable talent but also the right attitude to make them a good team fit.
"We're pretty lucky actually because they are good guys and a good part of our team, they are also very good and skilled at what they do," says Paul.
It’s even been a bit of a learning curve for some of the staff at St Michel with Paul saying he knew very little about refugees before Solomon and Maung started working there.
“Only what I saw on the news,” he says. “I’ve learned quite a bit from associating with these guys, what they’ve had to do and how they’ve come to be in New Zealand.”
Looking for staff?
We work with former refugees across New Zealand who have a huge variety of skills. If you're looking to grow your team and do good in the process, get in touch with your local Pathways to Employment team. We provide ongoing support to businesses who employ former refugees through the programme.