Many young people who quit early or with no qualifications are finding themselves in full-time, fees-free tertiary programmes thanks to the government’s Youth Guarantee initiatives.

Youth Guarantee is an umbrella term for five different policies and programmes aimed at keeping young people in education: Vocational Pathways, Achievement Retention Transitions (ART), Secondary-Tertiary Programmes, Gateway, STAR (Secondary-Tertiary Alignment Resource), and Fees-free.

On a practical level, community colleges, polytechnics, and other education providers offer Youth Guarantee-funded courses and programmes to school leavers. The courses provide both practical and life skills to ease young people into further education or work. Those who complete the programmes come out with NCEA Level 2 credits under their belts, better literacy and numeracy and, very often, introductions to employers.

Success story

One of those success stories is apprentice panelbeater Bailey Jackson, who went through Wintec’s My Career Pathway course. Jackson left school at 16 with no specific plans for further education.

“I found it tough being in a classroom and I struggled with reading and numbers,” he says.

Jackson worked initially for his father’s construction company but developed a passion for automotives thanks to many hours of tinkering with his Holden Astra. One day a nervous young Jackson walked into Wintec to see if he could land a place on an automotive course. Wintec staff recommended he sign up for the My Career Pathway New Zealand Certificate in Foundation Skills (Level 2).

It was learning, but it didn’t feel like learning. “It was way better than school,” says Jackson. “It was all hands-on. If we struggled with anything, the tutors offered to help and showed us how to read the books.”

During the course, Jackson gained an insight into the motor vehicle trades. Thanks to his dedication, the tutors introduced him to a local panelbeating firm that was looking for an apprentice.

This is a very common story, says Doug Reid, chief executive of Community Colleges New Zealand. Many of the small training institutions offering Youth Guarantee programmes have connections in related industries and can help facilitate jobs for the students, he says. “The student might say, ‘I want to do a mechanical apprenticeship’ and we say, ‘See Dave down the road’. It’s that linked up.”

Big benefits

One of the biggest benefits of Youth Guarantee-funded courses is that the classes may have only 10 to 14 students, compared with up to 30 at school.

“It is much smaller than school and it is much more individually focused,” says Reid. “In a busy secondary class, it is difficult for them to be noticed.”

Not only are classes smaller, but the teaching differs from what students may have experienced at school. Tutors at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) in Hawke’s Bay, for example, have additional training themselves to work with Youth Guarantee students. That results in fun, practical and engaging classes, says trades academy manager Paul Hursthouse.

Another big difference with school is there is not the same compulsion to attend. Once given a choice, most turn up religiously, thanks to being in a better environment for their needs, with more engaging teaching. Jackson says he often arrived an hour or more early.

Youth Guarantee courses are fees-free and providers receive a small amount of additional funding, which provides dedicated pastoral care staff and also free/subsidised transport for students. Transport costs could otherwise be prohibitive.

Hursthouse says the pastoral care side of the Youth Guarantee scheme is especially important for the students. EIT’s ‘Success Navigators’ work with the family or whāwnau to ensure they are aware of the course, its expectations and the support given to the student. Students receive ongoing pastoral support from them to navigate their way through the course successfully and remove external barriers to participation. At EIT, older students are encouraged to mentor younger ones, says Hursthouse.

Like every programme, some aspects work better than others. New Zealand has had youth employment programmes for decades. The current iteration, Youth Guarantee, was set up by the last government and has a big emphasis on data.

What matters is measurable outcomes, which means NCEA passes. Success is not judged on employment as an outcome in any way or social wellbeing. Nonetheless, many students such as Jackson have gone on to rewarding careers.

Interviews with participants six months and one year after their departures from the programme found them pursuing diverse paths and a number had changed direction since their exit interviews. Most participants were engaged in some form of education, training or employment, the report said. A few had become parents and some were not in education, employment or training.

The final word goes to Jackson, who says: “Do it. It will change your life and the way you think.”

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