Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Dingle youth project expands to tackle jobs

Charity spreads focus from outdoors to linking students to working world.

Leighton mentor Sonny Takerei, centre, has been helping students including Joshua Peterson, left, and Robert Rudolph to build quad-burners. Photo / Dean Purcell
Leighton mentor Sonny Takerei, centre, has been helping students including Joshua Peterson, left, and Robert Rudolph to build quad-burners. Photo / Dean Purcell

Mountaineer Graeme Dingle's youth charity is branching out from its original outdoors focus to try to connect school-leavers with employers and jobs.

The Foundation for Youth Development, which Mr Dingle founded in 1994 as Project K, is piloting a careers programme at Manurewa High School where principal Salvatore Gargiulo says he has "never seen such a significant impact on students" from any other initiative.

By 2025, the foundation hopes the new programme will reach 20,000 high school students a year, compared with 250 in its iconic Project K which involves a wilderness adventure, community challenge and one-to-one mentoring.

But the new Career Navigator scheme depends on employers making staff available to be "group mentors" for students, going into the schools regularly to talk about their work, hosting students in workplaces and doing bonding activities with the students such as rock climbing.

So far only one employer, contracting firm Leighton, has signed up to provide mentors, although others are involved in "career pathway days" which at decile 2 Manurewa High School involve all students in Years 11 and 12.

Mr Gargiulo, a former head of Nelson College, said few Manurewa students had the "natural connections" to jobs through family and friends that most Nelson students had. "I ask them what career your father is in and they say, 'Oh, just work'," he said. "This programme is giving a whole class a connection that's authentic, because it's what real people do."

The six Leighton mentors this year include a motorway project manager and technicians in Leighton's telecom business Visionstream. They spend an hour a week with 14 Year 13 engineering students doing workshops on topics such as workplace attitude and ethics, problem-solving, and the first 90 days in a job.

Over the past three weeks they have also visited the school on a rostered basis almost daily to help the students with a project building two quad-burner fitness machines for local rugby clubs.

"They said what they look for in employees and showed us their values that they have in their workplace - teamwork, courage and commitment," said student Johnathan Taliauli, 17.

On a visit to Leighton's New Zealand head office in central Auckland, the students met three apprentices. "One of them was just like us, he went to school in South Auckland. He said he had to work hard to get there," Johnathan said.

One Manurewa student from the first year of the pilot gained an apprenticeship with Visionstream last year, and current student Tewha McGee, 18, said he was keen on an apprenticeship the company said was being posted online this week.

Australian-owned Leighton chose the programme when it created a "community investment" budget three years ago. NZ general manager Andrew Stevens said the scheme was rewarding for the mentors and "gives them a fresh perspective on the value and importance of their own skills and connects them with the community".

Student targets for 2025

23,000 KiwiCan (primary school anti-bullying)
20,000 Career Navigator (high school careers)
6750 Stars (high school senior/junior mentoring)
250 Project K (high school adventure-based mentoring)

On the web

- NZ Herald

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