Plumbing in paradise

Employment pathways are unlocked in this innovative partnership between Melbourne and Kiribati. Kathryn Kernohan reports.

Bryan Ornsby, Manager Plumbing at Melbourne’s Chisholm Institute, doesn’t hesitate when asked to reflect on his visit to Kiribati. The first word that comes to mind is “gorgeous.”

The Micronesian independent republic of Kiribati comprises more than 30 atolls and reef islands - just over 20 are inhabited – and the raised island of Banaba. About 120,000 people call Kiribati home, with around half of them residing in the capital Tarawa, located roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

“It’s a long way to get there, but it’s a beautiful place. Culturally, I loved it, and everyone is extremely welcoming,” says Bryan.

“[Kiribati] are facing lots of challenges in terms of overpopulation which is difficult in a plumbing context, as well as logistical challenges in terms of getting fresh food, sanitation and energy.”

The BBC has described Kiribati as ‘the poster child for climate change,’ and scientists believe some of the nation’s islands may become uninhabitable this century due to rising ocean levels.

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Plumbing in paradise

Through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia is the largest bilateral aid donor to Kiribati, and provides about 20 per cent of the state’s total Official Development Assistance.

Last year, a partnership was established between Chisholm Institute, a Victorian vocational education and training provider, and Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT), a Government of Kiribati owned TVET institute, which runs a range of accredited and non-accredited courses across trade and non-trade industries, to assist skill development and open up pathways to employment.

More recently, in June, Kiribati’s only Certificate III-qualified plumber Tetarae Inatio spent three weeks in Melbourne working closely with Bryan and his team at Chisholm, and undertaking industry visits, including to Reece’s distribution center.

Tetarae is Kiribati Institute of Technology’s Plumbing Lecturer and took part in a Training and Leadership Fellowship at Chisholm alongside the institute’s Accounting Lecturer, Head of School Business and Deputy Director of Quality.

“I have been in the plumbing industry for about five years. We have a lot of people at home who want to become plumbers, but we can only teach 18 students each year. We have lots of applicants so we select the top ones,” she says.

“I learned a lot from the team in Melbourne, especially comparing things with the plumbing industry at home and the teachers we have on the island. The mentors I have been working with are very experienced and I will take these skills and techniques back to teach people in Kiribati”.

Kiribati Institute of Technology currently offers two Certificate II qualifications in Plumbing which cover drainage, metal roofing and cladding.

Kiribati Institute of Technology engages Chisholm Institute as a sub-contractor to act as a final assessor following initial assessment conducted by KIT. These courses are now recognised in Australia and around the world, and also meet the Australian VET Quality Framework standards.

The Australian Government also funds Kiribati Facility, which is operated by Scope Global as appointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Kiribati Facility in turn operates the Skills for Employment Program at Kiribati Institute of Technology, which offers demand-driven skills training.

Brendan Gould, General Manager Training and Industry Development, says that the partnership complements other international training offered by Australian providers.

“Master Plumbers sees the partnership as a recognition of the quality that the plumbing training program offers.”

Bryan says that his team looks forward to continuing to develop relationships with Tetarae and the team at Kiribati Institute of Technology.


The BBC has described Kiribati as ‘the poster child for climate change,’ and scientists believe some of the nation’s islands may become uninhabitable this century due to rising ocean levels.

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