OPINION: Bridging the gap between school and the work force plays a vital role in the economic and social health of a country.
Leaving the classroom early without the skills needed to get a job is a ticket to long-term unemployment and the associated hardships that brings.
The Government's youth guarantee scheme was launched in 2010 to keep 16 and 17-year olds in education by offering them free vocational courses at institutes of technology, polytechnics, and private training institutions.
The scheme cost $52.7 million to provide 4000 student placements in 2010 and 2011 in courses such as carpentry, engineering, horticulture, plumbing, gas fitting and brick and block laying.
But its effectiveness has come under fire this week after Labour obtained figures showing poor completion rates in the scheme's first year, 2010.
Labour tertiary education spokesman Grant Robertson says the completion rate in polytechnic courses under the scheme in 2010 was 63 per cent. At Northland Polytechnic the completion rate was just 44.4 per cent and at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology it was 52 per cent.
Such poor results, even allowing for students who have struggled at school, call into question whether the scheme is working, he says. Millions of dollars have been "thrown away" on students who fail to finish their training.
He acknowledges that the scheme has the best of intentions, but he questions if it is the right programme.
Mr Robertson is doing his job by raising such questions, but by basing his argument on 2010 figures - the latest that were available - and extrapolating them to the current situation, he is overplaying it.
NMIT chief executive Tony Gray says last year its youth guarantee students had an 87 per cent success rate, and this year will see similar results.
The institute had started the programme late in 2010, creating organisational issues and delayed results, he says. He admits the choice of courses in the first year of the scheme was not ideal.
This year NMIT has moved its courses towards trade and primary industries, skills that Mr Gray says will help the 66 students involved move on to work or higher study.
He makes the point that the scheme will be challenging because of the nature of the young people involved, often from troubled backgrounds. But, putting politics aside, he says the scheme is important because it gives them a chance. In November last year, the Mail featured three 17-year-olds who had completed a trade and primary industry certificate at NMIT under the scheme. One had left school when he was 13, and had found himself drifting through jobs with little direction until he enrolled in the free courses.
He and the others planned to get qualifications for engineering jobs.
Another said: "I actually wake up in the morning thinking yeah, I've got course today, I can go learn something."
Like the students, the scheme deserves more of a chance.
- The Nelson Mail