“I’m over the moon,” says John Paitai. The principal of Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa returned from Wellington last week with the inaugural ‘Got a Trade! School of the Year Award in hand.

The accolade was one of four distributed at the 2017 Got A Trade? Got It Made! Industry Training Awards, held at Parliament last week. The awards were the pinnacle of the ‘Got A Trade? Got It Made! Week’, aimed at promoting the range of job opportunities that offer the chance to ‘earn and learn’ and launch successful careers.

Thanks to some excellent initiatives, Bay of Islands College students are exposed to these sorts of opportunities while still at school.

With a roll of just 343 students, the Northland high school emerged from a shortlist of 23 secondary schools as the best in the country at supporting its students to transition successfully from school to employment.



As one of the earliest adopters of the Gateway work experience programme, Bay of Islands College has become a shining example of how a school can deliver relevant and community-linked learning options. Its commitment to Vocational Pathways helps students channel their NCEA course choices. Its farming and automotive Trade Academies give students yet more options.

Principal John Paitai is particularly grateful for the support of the community businesses that help the school bridge the gap between the classroom and a career. The success of the initiative is contingent on buy-in from these businesses, he says, and the school works hard to ensure these good relationships are maintained.

Before entering a work placement, students are reminded that their personal reputation and that of their school is at stake.

Every morning a van drops students off at their workplace experience and every afternoon it picks them up, travelling great distances around the region – as far as Whangarei on occasion. They even arranged a placement in Hamilton, to allow a student – the school’s head boy – to pursue work experience in the aviation field.

John Paitai, Josh Williams, Shirley Reti and Paul Cochrane

Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams said the judges were impressed with how Bay of Islands College is improving the perception of trades and services.

“Most secondary schools focus on preparing students for an academic pathway, which is great if that’s your next step, but the majority of school leavers have a different end goal in mind.”

Williams says a lot of schemes and pilots are aimed at second chance learners or those with special circumstances. He would prefer to see pathways into trades and services presented as worthwhile options for school leavers.

Paitai says while the school identifies early those students who want to pursue an academic pathway and pushes them to reach their goal, he is mindful that over half of their students will look for an alternative pathway.

“One of the reasons why a lot of our families in the North are not able to support their children to go on to university – as much as they’d like to – is down to the cost involved.”

Instead, the school’s positive approach to work-based learning opens students’ eyes to the possibility of earning and learning within an industry that excites them.

Students have to be at least 16 years old before they can participate in such work-based training initiatives. Paitai thinks this age minimum should be lowered. He says too many students, particularly boys, become disengaged with learning and leave school before they get a chance to explore a pathway into employment.

He recounts many examples of students going on to achieve successful employment and entrepreneurial outcomes.

“Often employers are putting their hands up to employ the students while they’re still at school,” he says.

Williams is keen to continue improving perceptions of trade industries among school communities.

“Lots of schools are doing cool things,” he says. “We’re seeing some really pleasing innovations.”

“Twenty-three secondary schools across New Zealand were nominated for this award and we are thrilled to send it up to the stunning Bay of Islands, where a small school in Kawakawa is doing some equally stunning stuff,” says Williams.

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