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Turning Māori Career Aspirations into Realities

By: Dr Angus Macfarlane & Melissa Derby

Date: 12 Mar 2018

Category: Article reviews

Tags: maori, youth, rangitahi, student, identity, ka awatea

Turning Māori Career Aspirations into Realities

This blog is a think piece that encourages the adoption of a proactive, rather than a reactive approach to Māori career aspirations, while offering some insight into key factors that contribute to Māori success.

How many of us were told when we celebrated our last year of high school, “Find something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”? A curious piece of advice to be offered as a teenager, when enjoying yourself and following a practical career pathway would seem to be poles apart.

Most of us will have more than one career in our lifetime, in fact Forbes Magazine maintains the average person will change careers five to seven times during their working life. With an increasingly diverse range of careers to choose from, do we end up on a career path by chance, perhaps by using a similar formula to that of the child who is repeatedly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The age appropriate response in the primary years is usually the ‘job du jour’ - ballerina, firefighter, astronaut and anything ending in ‘-ologist’ in the teenage years.

Or do we carve out our career pathways using a combination of tools that enable us to find that elusive balance between our passions and earning a living?

Let’s consider Māori learners who are reaching for the tools they need to begin to forge a way ahead. What influences career choices for Māori? And how might culturally inclusive environments that support promising career pathways be developed? What success factors are key to facilitating smooth transitions into a career when systemic, educational and social disparities have persisted across multiple generations?

A seminal research project Ka Awatea: An iwi case study of Māori students’ success examined the qualities Māori learners develop to thrive in educational and post-educational contexts. The study focused specifically on success in a tribal (Te Arawa) context, and asked two key questions: ‘What are the qualities of success from a distinctively tribal perspective?’ and ‘In what ways do these qualities manifest in successful Māori students?’

What emerged from the study was a unique insight into Māori success. Eight indicators, sourced from the qualities of tipuna (ancestors) were evident across the group of participants that contributed to the study. The study found that successful Māori students tended to demonstrate the following traits:

1. A positive sense of Māori identity.

2. A diligent outlook and an internal locus of control.

3. A knack for nurturing strong relationships.

4. A curious and innovative spirit.

5. Keenness to take care of their wellbeing.

6. A commitment to advancing their own knowledge - scholarship.

7. Recognition of the need for humility.

8. An understanding of core Māori values.

Based on the considerable amount of data that was collected and analysed, the study concluded that Māori students are successful when the following four elements are present:

1. Mana Motuhake: A positive sense of identity – knowing who they are, accompanied by a balance of self-assurance and humility.

2. Mana Tū: A sense of resilience, and the courage to take informed risks.

3. Mana Ūkaipo: A sense of knowing where they are from and a connection to place, landscape and waterscape.

4. Mana Tangatarua: A sense of bi-educational skills to navigate success in two worlds.

At the very heart of the findings was a crucial factor, Mana Whānau. Successful Māori students occupy a position of importance within their whānau, are nurtured into succeeding in both worlds, become socially competent and have a developing sense of belonging within a number of contexts. They know that their families value education, that their success at school is important to the whole whānau and that it contributes to the overall success of their whānau.

So how might practioners in the careers sector utilise the findings of this study to enhance the experiences of Māori learners transitioning into a career?

The Māori economy is booming and tribal entities have amassed enormous wealth. There is a strong Māori presence in the agricultural and horticultural sectors with a growing interest in the geothermal, digital, education and tourism fields.

The Ka Awatea study has provided some insights into the key factors that contribute to Māori success and other studies will offer equally telling revelations. While it may not be an easy task to initiate culturally responsive environments that enable Māori learners to move into a career, the challenge is not insurmountable.

In the current context, the following considerations offer a starting point:

1. Make the most of existing opportunities and services.

2. Develop and make available resources that are socio-culturally grounded.

3. Encourage attitudinal shifts in key stakeholders across the careers sector.

4. Seek good teachers and mentors who are committed to Indigenous excellence in the classroom and beyond.

5. Follow leaders who are responsive to the needs of the people they lead.

6. Foster informed and confident communities of learning that strive for excellence in career development across diverse fields of practice.

These suggestions are intended to contribute towards a base from which Māori learners may launch into fulfilling and fruitful careers - careers where they will love what they do and therefore ‘never have to work a day in their life’.

The real world, however, is best guided by humanistic endeavours, not clichés. There is a renewed interest in the role of rangatahi in the learning process in the lead-in to careers post-school. Today’s world of work needs citizens who are confident in who they are, while being able to reach out confidently to others with empathy and caring.

The Ka Awatea study recommends equitable opportunities for learners - opportunities that promote cultural diversity in its full complexity at every turn at school and beyond, so that Māori career aspirations become realities.

Dr Angus Macfarlane & Melissa Derby

Dr Angus Macfarlane & Melissa Derby

Dr Angus Hikairo Macfarlane (Ngāti Whakaue) is a prominent educator, psychologist and currently Professor of Māori Research at the University of Canterbury, and Director of Te Rū Rangahau Māori Research Laboratory.

Melissa Derby (Ngāti Ranginui) is a doctoral scholar at the University of Canterbury, whose thesis is part of A Better Start National Science Challenge. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria University of Wellington, and graduated with a Master of Arts with first class honours from Auckland University of Technology. Her thesis made the Dean’s List for Exceptional Theses. She also holds a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Studies from Columbia University in New York. Melissa holds the Brownlie Scholarship, which is awarded to the highest ranked doctoral student at the University of Canterbury.