In seven years, Tom Hullena took Makoura College in Masterton from the brink of closure to winning a Prime Minister's award and now he's using his knowledge in the hope of scaffolding Tararua students successfully into employment and further education.
"He turned that school around and has had valuable experience in working with kids," Malcolm Bell, principal adviser of the youth guarantee scheme with the Ministry of Education, said.
Mr Hullena, now working with the Ministry of Education's Youth Guarantee scheme, spoke at the Tararua Vocational Pathways meeting in Dannevirke recently. "This is an area I'm passionate about," he said. "It's vital we transition young people into [vocational] pathways after school. If you are going to get outcomes it's got to be collective actions. It's time to think about how we work together."
Mr Hullena said it's vital to make sure young people are given opportunities to engage in work while they are still at school.
"Schools are being innovative around their curriculum, but only 30 per cent of young people go on to university and only one in four is successful after six years."
Mr Hullena said schools have been structured to prepare young people for tertiary education and while there is more flexibility for students to be in the workplace, there is no quick fix.
"Dannevirke High School's results are fantastic, but generally speaking, across the Western world our kids are disengaging with education," he said.
"I speak to a lot of principals and they want to change their structures but it's tough. We've got to learn the attitude to being successful and there is a lot of weight on the shoulders of principals and teachers if it's not happening at home.
"Tararua employers are facing a supply shortage of skilled or work-ready labour. And how do we inspire kids to work if Mum and Dad are dependent on welfare? Where can they learn?"
Schools working in partnership with business and industries is the driving force behind the Tararua Vocational Pathways community partnership.
And it's critical employers are involved in the process. In Dannevirke an employers' panel of Lee Bettles, chief executive of Scanpower, Chris Edsall, regional manager of Downers and the Tararua Alliance, Brendan Poole, production manager of Alliance meat processors and Rachel Dalgleish, practice manager of MCI and Associates, has been set up to come up with practical solutions.
"Without the help of businesses we're completely knackered," Tararua District mayor Roly Ellis said.
Mr Hullena said in Sweden 90 per cent of young people leaving school are going into further education or work.
"If it can be done in Sweden, why can't it be done here?
"These things are time consuming to set up and sometimes they fail, but they also work.
"With our country become more multicultural - in 2030 the majority of New Zealanders will be brown - there are great opportunities for our country to grow. Generally speaking, those born into poverty have less successful outcomes. Poverty is still the single most significant factor contributing to low educational attainment. There are a number of young people who turn up at school with no hope for the future."
As the Tararua group tries to find ways of scaffolding young people into work, by building the right attitude and skills, Lianne Simpkin, the Tararua District Council's economic development and communications manager, suggested marrying up students who have no work skills with retirees could be one answer. And district councillor Carole Isaacson believes a partnership with Baby Boomers could also be a solution.
However, as the community partnership group tries to turn rhetoric into action, Mr Hullena did have a warning.
"We've got to be careful how we build these partnerships."