Ruth Osborne interviews Toni Pasay, HR
practitioner originally from the Philippines
The Philippines is a country of islands, and in the middle of it
all is Cebu. Cebu City has a bustling sea port, several
universities, two giant shopping malls and is an attractive
alternative to tourists wanting to avoid the mayhem of
Manila. It also used to be the home town of Toni Pasay, HR
practitioner and solo mum to three children.
Toni started her career in retail, doing supervisory work, store
management and purchasing. From there she moved to HR - a
love affair from the word go - and over five years worked her way
up to a management position. As HR Manager for a wood
furniture manufacturing company that exported to the USA, Toni was
responsible for human resource management for nearly 1000
Why New Zealand?
Toni was working a six day week, and the demands of her senior
role were taking their toll:
When you're in a management position, you go home in the evening
and your mind is not there. You're thinking about a lot of
things; decision-making, and as a single parent, this is very
Even Sundays were full, after attending church and doing the
shopping. Not much of the day was left for family-time:
"This was not an enjoyable life for my children. So the
main reason I am here in New Zealand is for my children. Cebu City
is not a great environment to raise kids; it's polluted and the
quality of education is not great. My eldest is a nurse, but
I have the two younger ones to think about. They're still in
Over several years, a friend's husband with connections in New
Zealand had mentioned what an amazing country it was. Toni
"His descriptions of New Zealand really convinced me that it
would be a good place to live. But it still took me several
years to make the decision to emigrate."
Leaving her children with her mother, she arrived in Auckland in
April 2009, with enough money to live for three months, and a two
year work-to-residence visa. It was her first taste of the
country and a big step:
A bit like jumping off the edge of a cliff!
Expectations: met and unmet
Before arriving in New Zealand Toni had read up about it, and
listened as much as she could to people who had visited. When
she arrived, she says what she noticed straight away was that
everything was organised: "from traffic, to applying for a
Toni had been told that New Zealand was a society that valued
family and getting out into nature.
"And that is what I found here: people go to parks and beaches,
they go on short trips out of town with their whole family; they
are relaxed. This met and exceeded my expectations."
But the real curve ball came with her hunt for the right
The one thing that I did not expect was my difficulty finding
work. I was thinking that having been a manager in the
Philippines, I would be in HR right away, or at least within three
months of arriving. But no-one wanted to employ me, and I
think one of the reasons was that the recession was full-blown.
The challenge of the right job
Over the course of 2009 HR job openings dwindled, and that meant
more HR were competing for work. As Toni applied for jobs, and even
went door-to-door in her determination, the more the same message
came back: she lacked local experience.
"The thing is, many companies have the policy of hiring New
Zealand citizens or residents first, and they also prefer someone
who knows the HR field in New Zealand."
Toni was starting to get very concerned about her finances, but
she did not want to abandon her vision of a new life:
"After two months of no success in the HR field, I got a job as
an assembler on a production line at Quick Circuit Electronics. I
had even applied to be a caregiver and to work at Pak n Save.
I was running desperate because I only had minimal funds, so I was
just looking at how I could support myself here. I had to
Toni moved from her CBD flat to live on Auckland's North Shore
near her Albany work, such as it was:
"I was pleased to have a job, and to be accepted as an
electronic assembler. But you can just imagine the change
that this was for me, having been a manager, now to become someone
who did soldering on an assembly line."
While the role did little for Toni's self-esteem, it did give
her the chance to breathe easy financially. She was determined to
hold on to on her dream of working in HR in New Zealand, and of
bringing her children to live with her.
Tailor-made mentoring support
While looking for work, Toni had attended some seminars and
training and that's where she heard about OMEGA and their Mentoring
Programme. She had signed up to get a mentor, but in the
meantime landed the job as an electronic assembler.
"I really did want to have a chance in the HR sector, so I was
pleased to get allocated a mentor who is in HR with a banking
group. We began meeting regularly after hours."
The pair looked at several things regarding Toni's job hunt, and
having the support of a mentor gave her confidence a much-needed
boost. After months of rejections, her mentor was able to
help her see once more that she had something worth offering.
He encouraged her to apply for an internship with the bank. She was
not selected for it, but it at least gave her the experience of
being interviewed for an HR role.
They actually looked at my HR skills, which was a first!
No recruiting employer had ever properly looked at and considered
my skills, so it boosted my confidence. And I got the chance
to experience an interview in a New Zealand company, albeit for a
junior intern role.
This helpful interview brought to the surface the issue Toni had
been grappling with; the difficulty of not being recognised for her
skills, abilities and overseas experience, but rather for her
"My question to my mentor was, 'I already have the CV, I have my
skills, I have extensive and relevant experience in HR. I
just don't have the local experience, but I do have these other
things to offer. So how am I to enter the HR sector when I am
not given the chance to get that experience?' "
At this point her mentor offered Toni the most insightful and
helpful suggestion, which really pointed her in a new
"He suggested I start with the company I am at right now, since
I am orientated with their systems, and that I offer my help as a
volunteer to the HR department. I asked: 'Is that
possible?' So it was really him who gave me that confidence
to try something quite different."
In her case it was good timing. The Production Floor Manager
also handled the HR function and really needed someone to help with
his very full role. Toni offered, and from August started the
HR work without any official appointment and at the pay equivalent
to an electronic assembler. When there was no HR work to be
done, she would work on the assembly line.
"But I didn't mind, because I was just so pleased to be on the
right track and back in HR. It really is my interest, so why
wouldn't I pursue it?"
Toni believes being able to make her suggestion successfully
owes a lot to the relaxed Kiwi workplace culture. Here you can
simply approach your employer and say why don't you try me? She
says that in the Philippines, companies function with much more
In the Philippines the president of a company is really
important, and you can't approach that person. Here your
employer is like your friend and you can talk to them; you can even
joke with them. The work culture is very light. There
is no 'sir, madam' when talking; in the Philippines you address
your boss formally. So promotion seems to be more possible
here. Because the hierarchy in the organisation is flatter, it is
easier to advance in what you are doing.
Toni also finds working in a manufacturing plant in New Zealand
different to the Philippines in that the Philippines is labour
intensive, so she has gone from an assembly floor of approximately
1000 workers there, to less than 100 here.
On the right track
In October, the Production Floor Manager told Toni that she was
due for a salary review - a surprise to her, as she was on a casual
contract offering no security. Toni says that she kept her
expectations of the company low, and believes this was key - not to
assume, demand or expect - because people do pick up your attitude.
Somehow, what you are wanting will come your way anyway.
Although it took time for the management team to approve and design
the new role, it was all done by the beginning of December. A new
short-term contract (given the imminent December holiday shut-down)
made Toni an HR support person.
Much to Toni's amusement, one of her main responsibilities in
her new role was to test if contract applicants had a basic
knowledge of soldering and were actually able to do it:
"You can just imagine it! I didn't know how to solder when I
arrived here, but I did know how to appoint workers. Now I
know how to solder, and have to assess solderers and interview
But to apply to the Department of Immigration for permanent
residency in New Zealand, Toni knew that she needed more than the
title of HR support person. The transfer of her work permit
to the status of permanent residency was contingent on her landing
a more senior role in HR. So early in 2010, she approached
one of the company's directors to explain her need to fulfil the
requirements of the Department of Immigration.
In a quietly confident way she presented her case and her goal
of having a future for herself and her children in New
Zealand. The Director took up her case with the rest of the
management team, and shortly Toni was made the HR Officer of Quick
Circuit - and so she was able to file an application for her
permanent residency in New Zealand.
I had to be courageous in approaching the director but to get my
residency, I needed something with more responsibility than HR
assistant. Even an officer is more junior than the work I did
in the Philippines. But I am not really a title conscious
person. I am just happy because I am in the field I wanted to be in
and I have been able to apply for my permanent
residency. It's as if I am not working because I am doing
what I want to do.
The hardest parts
Things are looking up for Toni. It seems her hope of a
better life in a new country for herself and her children is being
realised, but the journey has been full of challenges.
Toni admits that the transition was a lonely one: knowing
no-one, and coming home to an empty house caused her to question
her actions on many an evening. Little by little she is
making friends, but says it is hard because she has no history with
She has missed her children deeply, and it was very painful to
leave them behind. After six months, her eldest daughter was
able to join her, but she has longed to see her younger children;
talking on the phone and on Skype is just not the same. She
is excited as it seems that by August 2010 they will be able to
Toni says she has frequently questioned the value of her actions
and decisions, especially in the first six months and before she
got the work in HR:
"I would often, often say 'What am I doing here, why am I doing
this?' And it always went back to the main reason: for my
children. I made them my key motivation to do well here, for
us to be together as a family and in a country where they have a
future. And it looks like I have managed to do it."
Thoughts for others
In her advice to others immigrating to New Zealand, Toni
"When your expectations are not met, it's a huge disappointment
with yourself and with New Zealand. So you have to keep your
expectations realistic and but also be very persevering in what you
want and are aiming for."
She says it is important to stay focussed, and to not just take
any job and stop off there. She says one has to be more
determined than that:
"At first I thought I had made a wrong decision in working as a
solderer, but I offered the company something. I marketed myself,
and I helped to create the need for a full time HR person to the
company, so that they would accept me."
Toni says skilled immigrants in inappropriate jobs should keep
looking, so that they can realise their dreams and also give the
New Zealand economy the benefit of their skills. She
maintains this means being open to new things:
This is the new world, so you have to be flexible and assimilate
to the new environment. You have to be wide open to all
challenges, and as a woman and mother in particular, you have to
have a very tough and courageous heart to face the challenges of
She encourages workplace mentors to be patient with new
immigrants they are mentoring, as it is really tough for that
person and they come from a different culture. She believes
it is important to show respect for that person, their culture, and
the skills and abilities they bring with them. It is key to
understand that what you know and are used to doing they are not
used to doing, and it takes some time to work this out.
Toni says her OMEGA mentor did this very well; that he showed an
understanding of what she was going through, and that he really
respected her and made every effort to pass on to her his
experience and wisdom of the New Zealand HR sector.
She says the employers who are hiring, should give skilled
immigrants a fair chance, and look at the skills and abilities they
might add to the company, rather than at their nationality:
"I don't think Kiwi employers are intentionally
discriminating; it is just that in the field of HR, they really
need local experience and knowledge of labour law. But newcomers
can't get that if they're not given a chance."
More About OMEGA
OMEGA works to see the
greater Auckland region prosper by fully engaging the contributions
of skilled immigrants, and by helping bring an end to workplace
The organisation facilitates several practical
programmes which are designed to increase the employment
of qualified immigrants in jobs that match their skills and
experience. It recognises the unique barriers new Kiwis face
when entering the New Zealand labour market, and its programmes
address these barriers, and at the same time help
organisations benefit from the talents and skills
immigrants bring with them.
The Mentoring Programme facilitates
occupation-specific mentoring, matching skilled immigrants with
business professionals who share the same skills and industry
knowledge. Mentors provide advice, support, information and
contacts, with the aim of assisting mentees to obtain employment
relevant to their qualifications and experience. It is also an
opportunity for mentors to develop their one-on-one leadership
capabilities and fine-tune their coaching skills. Programme records
show that 80% of skilled immigrants who complete OMEGA's Mentoring
Programme find relevant work within three months after completing
their sixteen week mentoring partnership.
Would you like to make a contribution to the life of a new Kiwi
and also to 'NZ Inc'? Is your organisation looking for
short-term qualified interns and volunteers to fill a skills
gap? You can find out more and
sign up to become a mentor at OMEGA.
Skilled Immigrants in New Zealand ~ a bit of
International economists predict that by 2025, there will be a
global decline in the supply of skilled labour owing to the great
demand for skill, and the decline of the baby boomer
generation. The need for international talent will never be
greater. Currently 38 - 40% of companies in New Zealand
experience skill deficiency, and with this predicted global skill
decline, as a small country and economy (by global standards), we
will be even more adversely affected, and further will be competing
with other international cities to attract scarce internationally
It is clear from both studies and casual observation, that the
Auckland region already does attract international talent, and is
in fact the seventh ranked city in the world for this. 37% of
Aucklanders were not born in New Zealand, and people of 181
different ethnicities reside in its regional boundaries. But
it seems as an economy we are yet to effectively tap into the
talent on our doorstep, with nearly 50% of all skilled immigrants
who live here, inactive, unemployed or confined to jobs for which
they are over-qualified.
New Zealand's skilled immigrants experience very real barriers to
getting into the workplace: a lack of information, inadequate
recognition of international qualifications, lack of upgrading
opportunities, lack of networks and social capital, and a lack of
opportunities to gain New Zealand work experience. There is
anecdotal but frequent evidence of highly qualified immigrant
professionals doing work far below their capabilities and