Community initiative benefits at-risk youth

Issue: Volume 99, Number 15

Posted: 18 September 2020
Reference #: 1HABG1

A community initiative in Alexandra and Cromwell is providing at-risk students with opportunities to prepare for employment from the age of 13.

The goal of the Central Otago Youth Employability Programme (COYEP) is to connect at-risk students from Dunstan High School (Alexandra) and Cromwell College with potential employers; and to provide learning opportunities and mentoring specifically tailored for each student to keep them engaged in learning so they can develop vocational skills.

Data from Education Counts reported that in 2015, 54 students in the Central Lakes district had left school before the age of 16. COYEP aims to help students who fall in the gap between mainstream and alternative education.

COYEP began in 2018 and Jenna Faulkner, a former PE and health teacher, came on board in 2019. She says the programme can be life-changing for young people. Her role includes supporting students, building relationships with employers and visiting student work placements weekly. 

“We like to get pupils from Year 9 to Year 11. We liaise with the DPs and deans, who refer pupils who they think would work really well on this youth employability programme. They need to have good time management, be enthusiastic, and be able to hold this work placement down. 

“They are pupils who are starting to show signs of disengagement and are just not enjoying school,” says Jenna.

Tailored programme

When students first come into COYEP, Jenna finds out what their interests are and then meets employers to find work experiences for them. Placements to date have included: bee keeping, shearing, building, roofing, mechanics, viticulture, physiotherapy and earthworks.

“At Year 10 we can provide the pupils with a taste of a variety of different industries over the year. Every programme is individualised to each pupil’s needs and interests,” says Jenna. Since the start of 2020, the students have been enrolled in the Trades Academy alongside two days of work experience and time in school.

Jan Hawkins, former principal of Cromwell College, delivers the Open Polytechnic course for literacy and numeracy one day a week in each of the two schools.

There are currently 18 boys and two girls on the programme and Jenna hopes to increase the number of opportunities for girls. However, she is impressed with one student, Jen, who after doing work experience with a physiotherapist, decided that physiotherapy was her chosen career path and realised that she needed to return to school in order to pursue this pathway.

“She had that taster, decided she wanted to do it and then realised she needs to be in school five days a week,” says Jenna.

Attitude change

The students have a mentor in the workplace and are supported in their learning, and the change in behaviour and attitude is significant, says Jenna.

“I hear from the teachers about how some of the pupils are just not enjoying school but then I will go to the work site and they are completely different people. They are just amazing – they are enthused and engaged. It’s like they have almost found a passion – it’s just that they can’t leave school until they are 16. It’s given them that taste of what they could have for the future.

“I visit the work site and I liaise weekly with the employers just to make sure they are all on track,” she says.

Work experience and apprenticeships

“One of my boys on the COYEP programme came on at Year 10. He did two days a week work experience in Year 10, three days in school. He worked through the summer holidays and he was enjoying his building work so much that they took him for an apprenticeship when he turned 16 in April,”
she says.

The student spent a year doing work experience with a local building company which was so impressed with his work ethic and quick grasp of things, that they offered him the apprenticeship.

“He knew the boy wasn’t particularly enjoying being at school, but he could see him being a future part of his business. There were meetings with family, school and it was decided that it would be in his interests to take up the apprenticeship without Level 1 NCEA.”

Win-win for employers

Twenty employers are currently involved in COYEP and see their involvement as a win-win situation.

“Local employers can see benefits. I have not had one employer in Alexandra or Cromwell who has said ‘no’. Everyone has said ‘yes’ because they want to see the young people stay here and create a future for themselves and have their families here.”

Jenna, who says she has “the most rewarding job”, says her goals for the young people are that they feel success and have a pathway to the future that they have carved out for themselves. 

Innovative and flexible programme

COYEP has enabled Cromwell College to re-engage students who were becoming increasingly unmotivated and disaffected with traditional programmes – particularly in Year 10, says Mason Stretch, principal of Cromwell College, which is the lead school for funding and employing the COYEP facilitator.  

“Time spent in a workplace aligned to a student’s possible pathway has been powerful for increasing the confidence and motivation of students back at school. The programme has already led several students into apprenticeships and a plan for achieving their NCEA. 

“The programme is innovative in that it provides great flexibility around qualifications, work and career pathways. There is a strong connection between the student, their whānau, the school and the employer and there is a desire for success. Our facilitator Jenna is outstanding at developing and maintaining this partnership,” he says.

Community buy-in

Jude Grace-Dillon, coordinator for Central Otago Alternative Education and Trevor McDonald, Ministry of Education, Central Otago were involved in the development of the COYEP initiative. 

A meeting was held in 2017 with various interested parties including the principals of Dunstan High School and Cromwell College and representatives from organisations such as Alternative Education, Otago Polytechnic, Ministry of Education and REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme). 

Prior to setting up the programme, Jude found that employers wanted to see young people emerge independent and valued within their communities. 

“One potential employer talked about taking on a student, particular workplaces he could put these kids in, particular projects they could work on and connecting them with somebody in the workplace,” says Jude. 

She says the connections with workplace mentors have been invaluable: “You think ‘wow’ when a kid has fallen out for whatever reason and an employer says ‘when that student is ready to come back, I will take him back’.

“Students may say ‘I want to have a go at being a builder, a bike mechanic – my passion is biking.’ So then we put them in a couple of places and the individuality of the programme is such that one student is doing different workplaces in different areas over a period of time, but some have gone straight in and said ‘hey, this is my home – this is where I want to be!’, which is fantastic,” she says.

Reality check

When employers are contacted about a student, they are given a realistic appraisal of the student.

“It’s not ‘we are selling you this wonderful child’, but ‘the reality of this student is that their future is looking dire, so we would like to see them engaged with an employment future’. 

“And the employers have been amazing. They are prepared to take on these kids who haven’t succeeded at school. We have had to prove that these kids can and will work and then go back to the careers people at schools and say ‘this does work’.” 

Future goals

Since the start of 2020, the Ministry of Education has contributed to the group’s hard work to secure sustainable funding for the programme, so that it is no longer solely funded by Central Lakes Trust and the schools.

This was achieved by partnering with Otago Polytechnic to expand the number of places available for COYEP participants. Work is also underway to expand the programme to additional schools next year. The Ministry is currently advising new schools on the integration of COYEP.

“Our area is Central Otago so we are looking at the bigger centres like Queenstown and Wanaka. The high schools there have both expressed an interest and say they have kids they would like involved already,” says Jude.

The over-arching goal is for graduates of the programme to find self-sustaining futures. 

“The programme is now a key component of an inclusive education for our students and is valued by parents, staff, students and employers,” adds Mason.

Hands-on experience valued

Year 10 student Mac works at Camco Auto/Campbell and Gaston Motors in Cromwell once a week. Education Gazette asked him some questions.

Q: What do you do there and what do you like about it?

A: I have replaced water pumps and timing belts, changed oil and brake pads. I have also taken the heads off motors, put new gaskets on motors. I have probably done more in a short space of time than I would have thought possible. I like everything!
I like learning about cars and utes and getting dirty.  

Q: Has this work experience changed how you feel about school? 

A: It hasn’t changed how I feel about school but it has made me think about long term. First I wanted to leave as soon as possible but now I think getting Level 1 exams and possibly Level 2 would help get me where I want to go... maybe auto mechanics or training to take me elsewhere in the world. 

Q: What do you want to do when you leave school?   

A: I have no plan but working at Campbell and Gaston makes me think about my options. I used to think I just can’t wait to get out of school but now I think what can I do to make it work?

Learning first-hand

Campbell and Gaston Motors has been offering local students work experience since the early 2010s, says Phil Burgess, a partner in the company.

“It’s good for kids to get hands-on experience in the work environment. The benefits are that we are putting something back into the community and kids can learn things first-hand.
The challenges are that we are very busy and we have to be careful around OSH regulations, but we buddy the students up with staff who give them a helping hand.

“We gave student, Oscar, a job last week to change a ball joint in a Toyota Hiace. We kept an eye on him and checked his work, and he got on with it and did it,” says Phil.

Find out more about STAR funding(external link) and Trade Academies.(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:10 am, 18 September 2020

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