Single mum Hayley Rakei had no idea how she would support her new baby when she dropped out of school at 15.
But on Friday, aged 18, she was among 31 Wellington students who graduated from a programme that paves a way into the workforce through The Warehouse.
The Red Shirts in Schools programme was extended from Auckland to Wellington and Christchurch in October, with students completing a retailing certificate and 60 hours' work at the big red shed.
Miss Rakei never really went to classes when she was in year 11 at Naenae College.
''My friends didn't, so I didn't.''
When she got pregnant at 15, she had to leave school with no NCEA achievements and raise her son Tyrell, now 2, on her own.
''I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to get any income to support us.''
When Vibe, a free Wellington youth service, suggested the programme in order to qualify her for a benefit, she jumped at the chance.
''If we don't meet our obligations then our benefit gets cut. I was really happy, because I have always wanted to try and go for the Warehouse and then this opportunity came up.''
Some aspects were challenging, such as when customers at the Petone store would come up to her and ask for things she knew nothing about. And she needed a lot of help with the written assignments, she said.
While she did not use the programme to get NCEA credits, it was a way into the workforce and her manager, Sam Baker, had already offered her further work.
She even hoped to take over his job one day.
Mr Baker applauded the programme and hoped to take Miss Rakei on a couple of days a week. ''Some of these kids just need an opportunity, and she was one of the real stars for us.''
Wellington's Retail Institute training co-ordinator, Noeline Clarke, worked with the pupils on customer service, communication, personal presentation, product knowledge and teamwork.
The programme was designed to inspire and motivate students at risk of dropping out of school, or not progressing to work or further education.
Some of Wellington's graduates were hoping to gain the possible 27 credits towards their NCEA level 2, and about 30 students had already signed up for 2013.
- The Dominion Post
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