A Tauranga volunteer programme for teenagers is so popular it's been at capacity for four years and has a waiting list.

Youth Search and Rescue (YSAR) does not advertise for students and currently has 54 training while in 2016 it had 30 applicants for 22 available positions.

General manager Steve Campbell was instrumental in kickstarting the organisation in 2009 because "there was a real need to bring in some young people to meet the needs of the ageing demographics".

He approached Volunteer Search and Rescue to consider starting up a youth section and the rest is history.

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"We started with seven students and have now developed a three-year programme that equips teenagers to become active community volunteers in the emergency management and search and rescue sector.

Training includes emergency management, information technology, leadership, search techniques, bush craft, navigation, tracking, first aid, rope systems, and geographical information systems."

The training modules were part of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority framework and students aged from 14 to 15 were taken on for three years.

"The first year is predominantly outdoor education, basic bushcraft skills, investigation and an introduction to stakeholders in search and rescue.

The second year is focused on methods of search and they get their day skipper's licence and outdoor first aid certificate."

"The final year is on leadership, management and innovation."

There was two major projects in the pipeline including command and control software that the military are using to direct staff in the field utilising tablets and smartphones.

Meanwhile on a local level Year 3 students were mapping the Kaimai Ranges, he said.

"They are looking at it from a search and rescue perspective and looking at all the access points and decision points. The students are walking the 320km and taking photograph of each area of interest and looking at the Kaimai Ranges from a historical context as well."

Former student Patrick Kerrigan credited the programme for increasing his confidence.

"While I was at Te Puke High School I joined Youth Search and Rescue and it was the best thing I did. Basically they train you in everything outdoors with a general theme of finding and saving lost people.

You get heaps of qualifications as well but for me it was about the experience and the confidence it gave me with the outdoors to the extent that before joining I had never camped by myself and now at uni I'm trekking in the Southern Alps.

"It's heaps of fun, give it a go."

Devi Oorjitham grew up in Malaysia and "a strong emphasis was put on my academic achievement".

"I struggled with this culture especially when we arrived in New Zealand.

Sciences have always been a strength of mine and an area I excelled in. Despite this I never really saw a career for me in this field. Joining Youth Search and Rescue provided me with the opportunity to see how 'real life' and science intermixed.

"It has played a major role in my decision to become a New Zealand Defence Force medic.

"It showed me how my strength in biology could be applied within my passion for the outdoors."

Parent Helen McMullen says her son Simon excelled after joining YSAR.

"He became better at working with others in a group situation.

He gained skills in the outdoors and the confidence to lead groups," she says.

The course encouraged him to think of others and to be aware of their safety as well as his own, she says.

"It prepared him for going on to do a course in outdoor recreation leading to work in the outdoors, first in Camp America and then as a sea kayak guide in the South Island."