Next year 20 high school students from north Taranaki will build a bach - to industry standards - as part of their school work.
They will be the first skills squad to come out of a new initiative called Taranaki Futures, which has been set up to create pathways for young people to move from school to employment, with the aim of getting them to stay in Taranaki.
Spotswood College students Eric Carter, 14 and Timi Te Ua, 14, have been selected to join the squad and are looking forward to the challenge.
Both want to be builders when they leave school.
"I love building stuff, just making stuff," Timi says.
Eric says it will be good to get experience for later in life.
"I think it would be a really cool experience to build a bach."
In the first term they will spend one day a week on the bach, which will be built on land at Witt.
Later in the year they will be building full time. When the bach is finished, it will be auctioned off and moved. Money made from it will go towards future projects.
Taranaki Youth Guarantee Network co-ordinator Warwick Foy will oversee the skills squad project and develop one for 2015.
Youth Guarantee is a Ministry of Education initiative that is being developed around the country, with the aim of having all 16 to 19-year-olds in school or in tertiary training.
But in linking it with Taranaki Futures, Taranaki is taking it further, Foy says.
For 2015 he would like to develop a skills squad project that is more open to girls.
"We are conscious it is a more male-orientated project this time, though we are welcoming girls. But the facts are most of the students are boys."
He's not rushing to decide about 2015, he says; he'd rather wait to see what develops.
Foy has been involved with Taranaki Futures from the beginning because he is the careers teacher at Inglewood High School.
"As it has evolved it just feels like an area I can enjoy and be effective in."
When he was at school, careers advice wasn't flash, he says.
"It was very much a university emphasis. The other kids just drifted into things or there were jobs there. Now it's more complicated. Kids don't know what's out there. For example, in farming, they think farmers milk cows and wear gumboots, but that's only a small percentage of all the jobs in the farming sector."
Only 30 per cent of high school students go to university and some of them shouldn't, he says.
"So, that leaves 70 per cent who need clearer pathways and better guidance. Universities are good, they come into schools and offer excellent liaison. But other pathways students find confusing and are uninformed and unsure how to access these jobs."
There's been a lot of interest in the skills squad. Foy went to the Spotswood College interviews and the students were really looking forward to getting involved, he says.
"One turned up with some woodwork he'd done to show us that this was his thing. We certainly don't have any students doing it because they have nothing else to do. It's important this project succeeds and is credible."
The day-to-day running of the bach project will be looked after by Witt trades academy co- ordinator Caroline Shaw. She interviewed the students and, once the project starts, she will support them in a pastoral care role.
Shaw will also liaise with schools about the students' attendance and behaviour, as well as liaising with parents and industry.
Talks are under way with a builder who has tutoring ability to come and supervise the build, she says.
Hopefully, this will turn a light bulb on for the kids, she says.
"And they think, 'wow, this is awesome' and go back to school or to the trades academy at Witt or step on to an apprenticeship or a full-time programme at Witt."
During the year the students will have periods when they work full time on the bach.
Spotswood College principal and deputy chairman of the Taranaki Futures board Mark Bowden says the opportunity for students to have block time on a project is important.
"Part of the challenge will be getting them back into class and their teachers are going to have to individualise where they are at and what they can do. Build a bach is worth 60 NCEA credits, which is equivalent to three subjects. The upside is they are going to be learning in context. Maths is going to make sense in the context of building."
In the past, there have been problems with employers saying to schools: "You're not meeting our needs", and tertiary providers saying, "industry is not talking to us", he says.
"This (Taranaki Futures) is pulling it together."
And it comes at a time when schools are working on a vocational pathways programme set up by the Education Ministry.
"Then we were invited to a meeting with Jonathan Young (National MP for New Plymouth). It's like the time has come."
It has been a collaborative coming together of the work schools have been doing and the work employers have been doing.
"It's really exciting. We're ahead of the eight ball. All provinces are working on a youth guarantee project in schools, but we have been able to link ours to a whole community approach. That's the difference."
Next year the skills squad will come from seven schools, but the vision is to roll it out to involve all schools in Taranaki, Bowden says.
The idea for the Taranaki Career Pathways initiative - Taranaki Futures - came from Young after his travels around the region talking to people about their aspirations and frustrations.
He realised that young people were leaving the region, there was a perception that trades or local education were not good enough, and different groups and organisations were not linking effectively.
"We have to be positive, loud and proud about who we are and what we have to offer," Young says.
"Taranaki Career Pathways is about that. It's about helping create great Taranaki futures for young people. But not only for them - for people mid-career looking for the next step.
"Where people are put into the context of what learning is about - construction, engineering, truck driving - means, apart from academic learning, bums on seats, it's hands on tools. And they see the prospect of the employment they can have. It gives meaning to what they learn at school."
As well as the skills squad, the plan is to have a space where people can get information.
Taranaki Futures establishment board chairman Graham Wells says there is still work to be done on funding for the space.
"The concept is to have one place where people who are scratching their heads about opportunities can go."
They hope to have representatives at the space from secondary schools, iwi, industry and also plan to have a technology hub.
"It's all work in progress. At the moment the focus is on getting the entity up and running."
It's not just about attracting people to engineering or employers, but more about capturing some of the resources that go untapped because people feel they can't look at anything that doesn't involve university, he says.
"'We're not anti-university. We just want to provide opportunities for people to evaluate what is best for them."
And keep them in the province.
"We see a lot of young people leave Taranaki and they don't come back."
Venture Taranaki chief executive Stuart Trundle says initiatives like Taranaki Futures that give people a reason - and that reason is often a job with growth prospects - to stay in the region are vital.
"While wealth creation can come from anywhere in the community, we must actively foster skills development at the younger end of the market and ensure it can retain these skills to drive employment growth."
Taranaki's population target is 135,000 residents by 2035 to meet the demands of growth projections of Taranaki's industries, he says.
"To achieve this we must work to retain, attract, or re-attract residents to Taranaki from across the age spectrum.
"Like much of New Zealand, Taranaki is sitting on a ticking time bomb of an ageing population, which alongside the culture of the OE - whether that's driven by university or global experience - has the potential to create a growing skills and population gap.
"To balance this we need to look at smart succession plans, and at building the skills necessary to maintain momentum right across our regional economy."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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