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While Phil Kupenga (Ngati Porou, Te-Whanau-a- Apanui) was born and bred in Gisborne, he had been away for twenty years before returning home from Wellington with his family last year.  Unlike many a city dweller who is lured to these fair shores by the prospect of a more laid back lifestyle, Phil was motivated to bring something of the city back here – opportunity.

Prior to becoming a Business Analyst, Phil was in the New Zealand Police, and had always assumed he would be a career-policeman, loving as he did the camaraderie and not knowing what each day would hold.

About 15 years ago however, Phil took two years leave without pay, intending to take a bit of time to rejuvenate before returning to the police force. Life however had other plans.

Phil’s wife Rachael was working as an IT recruiter and when she saw a job come up with the Department of Corrections, she suggested he give it a go. While Phil didn’t have experience in Information Technology, he did have an understanding of the sector, and demand was high for more people in technology roles. 

While Phil describes his entry into the world of IT as having been in the ‘right place at the right time’, that high demand for people in the tech sector hasn’t changed and Phil is back here in the Tairāwhiti to ensure that his people have the opportunity to get some of that pie.

Phil continued on from that initial IT role with Corrections to similar roles with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Inland Revenue before forming his Consultancy business “Next Chapter” in 2013. He provides business analysis for a range of government departments, working on a range of Information Technology and complex business projects.  

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A couple of years ago the Ministry of Social Development invited a number of experts to look at the segment of the population cycling on and off the benefit, often between seasonal work contracts.  Phil was one of these experts, and in September 2019, the not for profit organisation ‘Orawa’ was formed to pilot a Cultural leadership programme to help whānau prepare for the work of the future; to support people looking to make sustainable and real change towards an independent and meaningful life in this continually evolving environment. 

Phil’s role in Orawa is to inspire people in the Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti regions to consider high value work in technology and entrepreneurship; growth industries that are ‘future-ready.’  That is, they are not going anywhere, anytime soon. 

In our region we have the second lowest median wage in the country. The median wage for Information Technology on the other hand, is 80 to 90K. There are plenty of IT jobs around here too, so Phil is not only tasked with upskilling our people but also matching them up with jobs in our own community.

The son of a freezing worker, Phil believes in his people and wants to help people to lift their sights, to unleash their own potential. He wants to enable more people in our community to afford homes, and be able to spend more time with their families. 

It is undeniable that technology is shaping our futures and the Covid pandemic has only accelerated that. What advancements in technology are going to displace jobs? Currently fruit-picking robots are being trialled in Hawkes Bay, “rather than being the ones who lose their jobs to robots, let’s be the people designing the robots” urges Phil.

In his 13 years in the industry it has become patently clear to Phil that there is a dire lack of diversity in tech, with very few women, Māori or Pasifika people occupying those roles. The way Phil sees it, a diversity of value systems is important to ensure that the thought leadership informing the direction of innovation and the ways in which technology is used, is not coming from one homogenous worldview. 

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Since coming back to the Tairāwhiti Phil has joined the Tāiki e! Whānau, where he supports people to do a three-month course in Full Stack Web Development, also known as ‘coding’ through Dev Academy. The first cohort graduated just last week and as the next cohort is underway with another due to start shortly, Phil is working with local employers to create pathways to employment for the graduates.

I spoke to Andrew and Bomb (Pavaris) who have just completed the Dev Academy course, who reported that it had been “fun”, a word I least expected in relation to a course in coding I must say.. Bomb lost his job as a flight instructor after Covid hit, and is stoked with the opportunity he has been given to retrain. Both Bomb and Andrew said that there is heaps of online support throughout the course, and working alongside someone else had made it even more easier.

A big part of the Dev Academy programme is to develop digital literacy skills. It’s more practical and vocational than a university degree and is designed to meet the requirements of the roles that exist in the sector; from coders, business analysts and testers, to quality assurance, UX designers and Cyber security. All those roles are in high demand in our country and that demand has only been increased with Covid.

Students who complete the Dev Academy programme with Phil get the benefit of being a part of the Tāiki e! community, where entrepreneurship is the norm, and a wonderfully diverse and inspiring array of people flow through the space. 

We have the creative edge here in the Tairāwhiti Phil reckons, but more capability technologically, combined with entrepreneurship will enable us to do something with all of these ideas. 

It’s a potent mix that will enable us to create our own autonomy, our own industry and stem our current reliance on the primary industries. But first we have to build our own capability from the inside, and to do that we need to start believing in ourselves!

If you are interested in doing the course or are an prospective employer interested in what Phil is up to, please get in contact with him at 021877827 or phil@nextchapter.co.nz. 

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