Where there’s a will, there’s a way

In January 2017 Kirstin McGavin from Tauranga Plasterers completed her apprenticeship and was awarded the New Zealand Certificate in Plasterboard Finishing. Something that she never thought she would achieve.


As a lead in to her employment with Stuart Phelps at Tauranga Plasterers Kirstin attended a 4-week course funded by the Ministry of Social Development.

Kirstin says “Before starting my apprenticeship I didn’t have any aspirations, and I was at a point where I didn’t really see anything for me in the future. I’d left school and when I had children I was there to raise them. I worked in pack houses and in an orchard. I moved to Hamilton for a little bit and I got a job at a service station and worked in a bar in Tauranga. I did what I could to get by.

“I was on the domestic purposes benefit and had a case manager who’d dealt with depression, had four children, an ex-husband and was really passionate and lovely to work with. She helped me through a lot of things. I thought there was no way out and I was really unhappy and she was the one who gave me some really good advice and support. She was good to just talk to and offload. She was empathetic as to what I was going through.

“I knew that I wasn’t in the right head space so I’d been referred to see a psychiatrist and I was confirmed as being depressed and was told what type of mental illness I had. Then I was able to see the triggers and was able to handle how I was feeling and progress on from that. I’d try not to get down but sometimes it just happened. I take my medication and that makes me more balanced and able to handle things and to be naturally more happy. I’ve had the cognitive behaviour therapy. It was amazing, it retrains your thinking process and has really helped me. I had all of this treatment before I became employed so I was more balanced and it was a stepping stone for me to go on the course and then into employment.

“My case worker at WINZ remembered that I’d told her I liked working with my hands and she told me about a course that’s hands-on with tools and building materials and she thought it might suit me. So she registered me on the course and before long I went off to an interview. One of the first things they told me was that they would be doing drug testing and about three-quarters of the room got up and walked out. 

“When I got told I’d been accepted on the course I was absolutely stoked. When I started they talked about what we would learn. I was up at 5 am ready for the van to pick me up. The first day or two I thought the course was a bit too basic but after that it was really cool. We had a guy talk to us and it changed the way you thought and gave you confidence in yourself. 

“We were able to choose what we wanted to do around skills training. I chose plastering and fixing and when I became aware of the range of things I would be able to do I was fascinated. You never really know how detailed jobs are until you do them as the professionals make it look so easy!

“My tutor saw some potential in me but I think it came down to my attitude. I was always happy and keen to get on with it. I think some of it also came down to my age as I was a bit older than the rest. 

“One day Stuart Phelps came to the course in his role as President of AWCI to check out the programme and I introduced myself to him. It was towards the end of the course that I got told that I had a job with Tauranga Plasterers.  I couldn’t believe it, I was absolutely chuffed.

“The first week was only a trial but I didn’t even get to the end of the first week when I was told that on Monday I’d be on wages and now I had a job.

“Up until finishing my apprenticeship the only thing that I had ever accomplished was raising my two beautiful children. Everything I’d ever attempted I’d given up or failed at so it was a proud moment when my BCITO Training Advisor, David Jackson, told me that he was ready to sign me off. I cried and I called my mum - even David was a bit teary!

“I still have room to grow as a plasterer and I struggle to get up on stilts as I’ve always been afraid of heights but I know that this is something that I am going to have conquer to progress myself. I need to get faster so there are always challenges for me and goals to set.

“Being different doesn’t have to stop you from giving things a go and if you need to ask for a hand up go for it. We are not all equal and some people have more problems than others but it’s the great range of people that I work with that sets my job apart. I’m pretty proud of myself and I know I can be a role model for my two children.”

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