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When 'Normal' isn’t right

By Apii Jack

General Manager of ERG Recruitment Group Ltd

I’ve worked n recruitment for over 12 years now and, prior to that, I recruited staff for my own teams in various industry sectors. I am of Cook Island decent and was born and bred in New Zealand.

Near the end of August 2020 I came across a story shared on LinkedIn of an interview that John Campbell conducted with Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’I, Head Girl of Aorere College. Aiga spoke of the “act of sacrifice and love” for families. What she was referring to was young high school students, particularly in the pacific island community, that had to give up school either fulltime or part-time so they could secure work and earn an income to help support their families.

As I heard her story I was saddened by the fact that I have interviewed many such young people over the years of my time in recruitment with that same story. “I had to leave college cause our family needed the money” or “I had to leave university to get a job to help out mum and dad” or even “I had to stay home and look after my nana so mum and dad could go to work”. All these young people absolutely made the right choice to help their families and, for the most part, it was a decision that they chose to make, because of course you are going help your family out, right?

I am a softie, so it would break my heart to hear their stories for a number of reasons but the main reasons were, their family were struggling and I knew that these young people in front of me had HUGE potential that might not be realised due to the choices that life was determining they must make today. In time I understood this was a “normal” situation for many here in NZ, so I did the only thing I knew was within my control – found them work.

After listening to the interview between John and Aiga, I had an epiphany. Just because this scenario was a “normal” situation for some families didn’t mean it had to stay that way. But how could I make a difference? This mindset is the ONLY thing I thank COVID-19 for! I have looked back at a number of things in my personal and business life and realised that just because it’s always been, doesn’t mean it has to always be.

I still don’t have an answer for the families on how I could make a difference to change their family circumstances, but there are some things I know that we in the recruitment industry could do to help – just a little.

We can have conversations with employers who could offer part-time work to school students that fit in and around their studies so they didn’t have to leave school or university altogether. This could be specifically offered to those families where this exact scenario is their reality and MAYBE this could be your pro-bono work – just throwing it out there!

We can start conversations with our local schools and work together to identify families in these situations and perhaps offer other alternatives, whatever that could look like, to sacrificing school for work?

Am I looking through an unrealistic lens with my ideas, which admittedly are not fully thought through? Maybe, probably. But change starts with an idea said out loud!

Imagine if there was a whole bunch of us feeling the same way about this situation in the recruitment industry and we put our heads together to see just what we could achieve and the potential impact we could make and we made it – now that would be a beautiful story.

Apii Jack is a culture driven leader who is passionate about diversity, fair work opportunities, and supporting the transition into employment for everyone, especially our youth!

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