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Ideas proposed to tackle Motueka's youth employment

July 20th, 2013
[by David Armstrong]

Motueka's community, business and education leaders learned on Thursday how the Waikato town of Otorohanga is solving youth unemployment problems and building a stronger community in the process.

Ototohanga mayor Dale Williams (pictured right at the Motueka seminar) said their work over the past eight years could be replicated in Motueka using a proven model of youth engagement and matching actual youth skills with business requirements.

An unlikely looking mayor with his slight frame, beanie and heavily decorated arms, Dale spoke with conviction using language we all understand and a deep understanding in simplest terms of how businesses, communities and people tick.

He is chairman of the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs and works with mayors across New Zealand to advance a policy of "zero waste of young people". (See our earlier story.)

He told his audiences that when he began as mayor in 2004 some of his district's large employers were thinking of moving away because of a skills shortage among the young people. Remarkably, at the same time some youth suicides and comments that for kids the town sucked and offered no jobs forced Dale to look for practical answers.

Looking at the town's one high school, he found that the careers advice system was not interested in what the children really wanted to do and was geared purely to pushing them on into further academic training and jobs away from Otorohonga.

Dale decided to draw up a model whereby the community owned the problem, not the regional or central government. He felt that "nothing created in Wellington helped my community".

One early step was to start from the jobs available and skills required and work back to how young people could fit them, rather than the conventional approach of running a curriculum for general education and then hope the kids could find jobs when they left.

The community adopted and developed several specific activities, such as a home town-based careers expo which presented what teenagers wanted to hear about how great it is to work rather than just the job facts. Expo presenters had to be locals and aged under 30.

They also created a database of organisations with an interest in youth, applied to all teenagers, not just those considered "at risk". This led to youth mentoring schemes which included fortnightly engagement between mentors and every young person in the town.

Another vital initiative was to get the Hamilton-based polytech to set up a trade training centre in Otorohanga, rather than requiring the students to travel to Hamilton to get their training. The curriculum at the trade training centre was devised by the local Employer Partnership Group, not the polytech.

This led to employee internship and apprenticeship schemes, and even though there was a lot of resistance from some quarters, eventually it paid off.

Dale said the results have been outstanding. Youth unemployment in the town has disappeared, and graffiti and youth offending has reduced hugely through young people having something better to do.

The local rugby team even won the regional championships over the larger urban teams because there were more young people staying in town and there was greater cameraderie among them as they had been trained in their trades.

Dale said Motueka could, if it chose, use the same model to attack the same problem. All it would require is a leadership group to take on the task - but they had to have stamina to work through what he called the "push back" from sceptical conservative elements, which can be very tiring.

Youth worker Carl Chapman, who is presently contracted for work at Te Awhina Marae, is co-ordinating a group of Motueka people and groups who are expressing interest in helping with this initiative.

Read the full transcript of Dale's talk here »


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