Thirteen years ago, she dropped out of school as a 15-year-old and found out first-hand that transitioning to a career wasn’t easy.

“I was intelligent and capable, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I worked in a whole lot of dead-end jobs. I basically took the long route to success.”

Now, the humble leader and career mentor at industry training organisation Skills has made it her duty to put Northland teenagers on the right track.

“This is my community and these are my people. I want to teach our learners the skills they need before they have to take the long route to success.”

The Northland region is near the top end of the scale for students leaving school without NCEA Level 2 or 3. Their uncertain world is one Roimata knows all too well.

“I was one of those kids,” she adds as she reminisces about her teenage years.

And, while the Government has announced it will inject $20 million into the region in a bid to create jobs, Roimata deserves a pat on the back for her work on the frontline preparing teens for employment. Just over 18 months ago, Roimata and Skills helped launch Set for Life in Northland. The programme opened teenagers’ eyes to the prospects of a career in the trades or primary industries.

“We kicked off with a four-day induction and exposure workshops. Learners, who were predominantly 17-18 years old, went out to local employers for site visits and work experience. We threw them in the deep end and they came away inspired,” says Roimata.

The 16 teenagers who signed up for Set for Life also benefited from numeracy and literacy support, interpersonal communication advice, and life skills which would make their transition to the workforce seamless.

“How to maintain eye contact, how to solve daily problems, start and hold conversations – they’re skills that need to be taught and nurtured, so that’s what we did; we set them up for life,” she smiles.

Nineteen-year-old Blake Vinson has a mate to thank for getting him involved in Set for Life.

“He was going to the meetings and said I should come along, so I thought, why not.”

Fast-forward 18 months and Blake’s employed as an electrical apprentice at BMA Electrical in the Northland town of Kamo. Blake admits, “I’d always wanted to do a trade. I did a short building course then tried my hand at electrical and thought, this is what I want to do.”

Blake was one of Roimata’s 16 students, and one of 12 who have found full-time employment in their chosen industry.

“Two of my students decided to finish school and better their credits for tertiary study, and two dropped out. Getting 12 out of 16 into local employment is a pretty good success rate,” says Roimata. Two keys to the programme’s success, she adds, were “finding local employers who were as passionate as myself and Skills about providing a pathway for learners, and pairing employer personalities with employee personalities”.

Blake’s thriving as part of a two-man team. “I want to get qualified,” he says, “and one day I might be able to own my own electrical business.”

Northland’s regional annual average unemployment rate is 5.7%, that’s 1.2% higher than the national average. It’s a sobering statistic and one that shines a light on the importance of school to work transitioning programmes. Skills launched Set for Life in Northland to chip away at the region’s economic challenges and present local teens with opportunities. The programme demonstrated what can be achieved when a transition programme is done well. Blake Vinson and his 11 former class mates are proof that it works.

Roimata adds, “Many Northland teens aren’t aware of the careers available to them. They haven’t been exposed to broad employment options. They know what their mum, dad, aunt and uncle do for jobs, but they think their only career option is to follow in those footsteps.”

While Set for Life’s 12 month Northland programme wrapped up in March, Skills has woven those principles into its school programme which is active in many Auckland schools and recently launched in Northland.

“We go into schools and expose teens to the world of work and what careers are on offer,” says Roimata. “This approach gives us extra time with learners, lets us get hold of them at a young age, and educate them that a trade career should be a first choice not a backup.”

Roimata and the Skills team aren’t alone in recognising the immediate need for school to work transitioning programmes. Last year the Productivity Commission described career services in New Zealand schools as fragmented and failing to prepare young people for the future.

“Having just one person to open these kids’ eyes to career opportunities and work life really makes a difference,” adds Roimata. “I took the long route to success, so it’s my mission to help these kids transition from school to work and put them on the short route to a successful career.”

Skills.org.nz  0508 SKILLS (0508 754 557)


Tips for bridging the gap

  • Layout all the career options. Show teens everything that’s available.
  • Get to know teens and spend time with them.
  • Teach life skills that matter – how to solve problems, how to hold positive conversations.
  • Engage like-minded local employers.
  • Pair teens with employers for real on the job work experience. Then, watch them fly!
  • Keep in touch and provide support after the job is secured.

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